SINGAPORE - How does one cope with the haze? This is a pertinent question, especially since schools reopened today amid the current haze situation.
How can the haze affect my health?
The haze contains particulate matter (PM), which are graded by size.
PM10 refers to particles less than 10 micrometres in diameter, while PM2.5 refers to particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter.
PM2.5 particles are more hazardous to humans as they can get lodged deep in the lungs, causing complications for those with respiratory illnesses.
Healthy people can get irritated or watery eyes, conjunctivitis or nasal irritation due to the haze. Other symptoms include throat irritation, shortness of breath and dry cough.
For those with respiratory illnesses, the haze can cause shortness of breath, and worsen conditions like asthma or chronic bronchitis when haze conditions are bad.
In children, long-term exposure to PM2.5 may lead to chronic respiratory diseases.
For pregnant women, long-term exposure to haze can cause birth complications.
Seniors, as well as those with heart problems or are stroke victims, are more susceptible to the haze, which can exacerbate health problems.
What can I do when it gets hazy?
Pay attention to the National Environment Agency's (NEA's) hourly PSI updates, and follow the daily advisories found on its website (www.nea.gov.sg/psi).
When the PSI hits very unhealthy levels (above 200), healthy people should avoid prolonged or strenuous outdoor activities, or wear an N95 mask otherwise.Prolonged and strenuous activities refer to those that last several hours and lead to people taking in more breaths than normal, such as swimming.
Vulnerable groups of people - including children, pregnant women and the elderly - should avoid outdoor activities when the PSI is above 200, or wear an N95 mask if they cannot avoid being outdoors.
Air purifiers can help filter particles from the air. Visit NEA's website (www.nea.gov.sg) for a list of portable air cleaners.
Air-conditioners can help, but not all can filter PM2.5 particles.
If you are suffering from an existing illness, take your medication regularly. If you feel uncomfortable, seek medical attention immediately.
Drink more water, which can relieve an irritated throat, and eat more fresh fruit and vegetables.
Cut down on alcohol and coffee.
Use a warm towel to wipe eyelids and apply eye drops when eyes are irritated.
Get medication, like antihistamines and decongestants, if you are suffering from a runny nose.
Should I use a surgical or N95 mask?
The N95 mask has been scientifically proven to filter out microscopic particles, including haze particles, effectively.Most surgical masks do not effectively filter small particles. Still, in cases where an N95 mask is not recommended, healthy people can use a surgical mask instead.
The N95 mask increases the effort required to breathe, so using it may cause discomfort, tiredness or a headache.
Seniors, people with chronic lung or heart disease, those who have suffered a stroke, and pregnant women in their second and third trimesters should consult their doctor on whether they can use an N95 mask.
N95 masks are not certified for kids' use, so they should remain indoors as much as possible when haze conditions are bad.
To learn how to wear an N95 mask, visit the Ministry of Health's website (www.moh.gov.sg).
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