The Haze Returns: Risks and solutions
You’ve already smelled it in the air, right? Like your next door neighbor is cleaning their barbecue by burning off excess residue left behind by charcoal. Only this smell doesn’t stop. It continues to offend your senses all day and night. That’s right, the haze is back. The slash and burn tactics used by farmers in Indonesia has yet again sent a smoky haze careening inevitably towards Singapore. As a result, people are getting ready to make the appropriate lifestyle changes to accommodate this smog.
Surgical masks are flying off the shelves, outdoor playtime is being reduced for kids and adults alike, and, no doubt, those with chronic respiratory conditions are making sure that their doctors are on speed dial. So, as an annual reminder for Singaporeans everywhere, Pacific Prime Singapore would like to present a refresher on the serious potential ailments that could develop as a result of the haze’s return, as well as how best to address the haze as it descends upon Singapore.
So what are the actual substances in the air that we should be worried about? Beyond the small particulate matter that will be absorbed into our bodies, there is also potentially toxic gas, such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, and ozone. Regular and prolonged exposure to these substances has the potential to create lung and heart problems, especially in those that have existing conditions.
If you don’t already have a supply of N95 masks at home, then you are probably on the lookout for them. Availability may become an issue, so be vigilant in your search for them. As well, the queues at shops selling air purifiers have been stacking up as of late. This is because the air we are all breathing in is practically saturated with particulate matter. And these particulates can lead to a whole host of varying health problems.
Make no mistake, when the haze gets worse in Singapore, doctors and hospitals do see an increase in patients with respiratory and cardiac issues.
What are the risks?
There are varying effects that the particulate matter found in the haze can have on the body. A short time after stepping into an environment with a high Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) level, a person may find that their eyes, throat and nose will become irritated. Once they are out of the environment, though, they will return to normal.
The more worrying conditions from short-term exposure come from particulate matter buildup in the body that can occur in people with heart and lung conditions. Very small particulate matter can have an adverse effect on a great number of conditions, including heart attack, COPD, and asthma.
As far as long term effects, people in Singapore don’t necessarily deal with long term effects, as the haze is not present in the country year round. However, studies of long-term effects of particulate matter on populations show that it can cause conditions as serious as reduced lung development in developing children, asthma, and even increased risk of heart attack.
Solutions and treatments
For short stints outdoors, such as during a morning commute, or any amount of time indoors, the Ministry of Health (MoH) has stated that it is not necessary for healthy adults to wear a mask. You will, no doubt, want to keep an eye on the PSI index, however, as the MoH has stated that people should wear N95 masks to reduce exposure to particulates if they will be outdoors for an extended period with a PSI over 300.
For those who are particularly vulnerable to poor air quality, such as the elderly, pregnant women, or small children, care should even be taken when the PSI is 200 or higher. At this level an N95 mask should be worn if outside for an extended period of time. Those who are particularly at risk and already have chronic health conditions, such as heart or lung disease, should take care to avoid exposure to the outdoors as much as possible when PSI levels are elevated.
This may beg the question, “Does it have to be an N95 mask? Why not just wear a surgical mask?” As it turns out, the size of the particles in the haze can be quite a bit smaller than PM2.5, which is the size at which particulate matter can move beyond the lungs and begin to affect organs in the body. In order to keep PM2.5 matter out of the body, an airtight mask is required, which is a feature that a standard surgical mask does not provide. Care must even been taken when putting on an N95 mask to ensure it fits snugly to the face for maximum effectiveness.
Additionally, even though the MOH states that those remaining inactive and indoors, even those who are at risk will be mostly safe from haze-related illness, having filtered, purified air certainly could not hurt in ensuring that the air in your home is safe.
If you or a loved one does have a severe reaction to any amount of haze exposure, you will no doubt want to obtain quick and effective medical treatment. Singaporeans should make their way to the nearest hospital for treatment. Expats in Singapore, however, do not normally have access to Singapore’s public healthcare system, and will likely want to avail themselves of one of the city’s private hospitals for treatment. These facilities may be the preferred option overall, as they feature shorter wait times and very high quality care, but this, of course comes with a heftier price tag for treatment.
If you find yourself preferring or having to use Singapore’s private hospitals, it would be a good idea to have comprehensive international health insurance for you and your family. Not only will it allow you to cover the potentially high costs for treatment in private hospitals in Singapore, it also allows access to treatment at virtually any hospital in any country worldwide. Contact Pacific Prime Singapore today to compare plans and get a free price quote for health insurance plans from some of Singapore’s best insurance companies, and make sure you have the best protection possible from the Singapore haze.
When she's not typing away on her keyboard, she's reading poetry, fueling her insatiable wanderlust, getting her coffee fix, and perpetually browsing animal Instagram accounts.
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