People with heart or respiratory diseases, as well as young children and elderly, should avoid going outdoors whilst the haze lasts in Singapore, advise experts. 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.
The National Environment Agency (NEA) issued these air pollution health warnings in Singapore after the air quality on 17 June 2013 reached an unhealthy reading of 155 on the Pollutants Standards Index (PSI, a 3-hour average). However, the PSI reading went up to the hazardous level of 371 on 20 June (1pm), the worst in Singapore’s history. In September 1997, the PSI reading had reached a high of 226.
A PSI reading of 0-50 is considered good, 51-100 is moderate, 101-200 is unhealthy, 201-300 is very unhealthy and above 300 is hazardous.
A smoke haze is an annual occurrence in Singapore and typically occurs in the May to October period. It is caused by winds bringing in tiny particles of ash from the raging forest fires in neighbouring Sumatra, Indonesia.
These particles are called PM10 (10 refers to the size in microns of the particulate matters). Breathing in an excess of these particles can increase a person’s risk of developing viral and bacterial infections, as well as heart and lung diseases, cancer and stroke. While the bigger air particles are filtered out by the respiratory tract, tiny particles are typically deposited in the lungs. These tiny particles can accumulate over time and harm the body.
“Existing health conditions such as eczema, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and eye diseases like conjunctivitis are made worse by air pollution,” says Associate Professor Loo Chian Min, Head and Senior Consultant, Department of Respiratory & Critical Care Medicine, Singapore General Hospital (SGH). “Even healthy people can suffer from irritation in the eyes, nose and throat, coughing and sneezing, if they spend time outdoors during a smoke haze.”
Ways to protect yourself from the haze
Take the following steps to protect yourself from the haze in Singapore:
Cover your nose and mouth with a mask when you go out – make sure you get a mask that can catch tiny particles below 0.3 microns.
Keep the doors and windows of your home closed.
Roll up the windows of your car if you are driving.
Use an air-conditioner in your home to help remove pollutants.
Use an air ionizer or air purifier to catch very small particles.
Drink more water than usual – this helps the kidneys flush out any toxins absorbed through the skin and lungs.
Cut down on coffee and alcohol – these promote fluid loss and leach nutrients from the body.
Build up your immunity with foods rich in vitamin C (oranges, guava, strawberries), vitamin E (nuts and seeds) and omega-3 fatty acids (oily fish).
-This article was written by Anjana Motihar Chandra for Health Xchange, with expert input from the Department of Respiratory & Critical Care Medicine, Singapore General Hospital (SGH).