A SOOTY and smoky layer of air envelops us. Eyes are watery, vision blurry, nose runny, and it is getting a little bit harder to breathe – telltale signs that the haze is back once again.
As I write this, my nose is getting reacquainted with lots of tissues.
I am told that a runny nose is common during hazy weather because the body produces extra mucous so as to excrete the toxins and particles from our body.
Of course, the particulates found in the haze can do a lot more harm than just a simple runny nose.
Air pollution can result in death through stroke, ischemic heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lower respiratory infection.
According to the World Health Organisation, diseases linked to air pollution kill over three million people per year worldwide. This is more than AIDS, malaria, diabetes, or tuberculosis.
I spoke to Malaysian Thoracic Society president Prof Roslina Abdul Manap about the haze in Malaysia and how it affects our health.
I was told that scientists found that really small particles, measuring just 2.5 microns, which is about 30 times smaller than the diametre of human hair, in high concentrations can penetrate deep into lungs that can trigger deadly complications.
“Yes, studies have shown that there is a correlation between PM2.5 air pollution and mortality and morbidity from cardiorespiratory disease,” said Prof Roslina, adding that the number of cases of respiratory illnesses in Malaysia has increased over the years.
The high concentrations of PM10 particulates found in haze can increase a person’s risk of developing viral and bacterial infections, as well as heart and lung diseases, she said.
“Even healthy people can suffer from irritation in the eyes, nose and throat, coughing and sneezing,” she said.
“People with heart or respiratory diseases, as well as young children and elderly, should avoid going outdoors.
“Even if you don’t have a pre-existing health condition, you should reduce your outdoor physical activity when the air quality is hazy and unhealthy,” said Prof Roslina.
She said that there is a fairly close relationship between admissions and deaths in patients with cardiopulmonary disease and the degree of air pollution.
“If going outdoors is deemed necessary, an N95 mask is advised,” she said, adding that some patients reported that the mask causes breathing to become more strenuous.
N95 masks are designed to filter out fine particulate matter such as that found in haze, something that surgical masks are less efficient in doing.
However, the N95 masks are not certified for children to use. Hence, children should stay indoors as much as possible.
If you’re indoors during hazy weather, it is important that you close all your windows tightly to prevent the haze from entering your house.
An ioniser or air purifier may also help to catch very small particles.
“Constantly check the news updates of air quality from the Department of Environment’s website.
“When the level goes up to ‘moderate’ and ‘good’, it will be safe to open your windows,” said Prof Roslina.
Prof Roslina also advises all Malaysians to drink more water than usual.
“Drink at least two litres a day and cut down on coffee and alcohol which promote fluid loss from your body,” she said.
If you develop any sudden health problems, especially to do with breathing, she recommends seeing doctor immediately.
Malaysia has pointed fingers to our neighbour Indonesia as the source of the bad haze in our country.
But surely, Indonesia is not the sole cause.
The exhaust gas from vehicles on the road, industrial pollutants, forest fires, and open burning in Malaysia is surely contributing to the blanket of haze.
The authorities have to increase enforcement and impose stricter penalties on those who carry out open burning.
Perhaps our government should consider imposing a carbon tax, so that the amount of pollutants industries release are limited and monitored.
The air we breathe is not getting any cleaner, and it will affect our health and well-being in the long run.> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.