Experts give tips on staying cool, hydrated during harmattan
As the weather becomes hot and dry due to the heat and harmattan that has resurfaced across the country, health experts have advised Nigerians to drink plenty of water or fluids to stay cool and hydrated. They equally advised that avoiding caffeine and alcohol could be very helpful.
Individuals would do well to avoid being outdoors for long during the middle of the day when the intensity of sunlight peak. Work and exercise should be brief.
Former President, Association of Resident Doctors (ARD), Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Dr. Olubumi Omojowolo, said harmattan is caused by the hot, dry and dusty wind that blows over West Africa. The wind usually blows from the Sahara Desert into the Gulf of Guinea between the end of November and the middle of March.
Omojowolo explained that harmattan has far-reaching medical implication, as it consists of fine dust particles between 0.5 and 10 micrometres. Thus, it affects all exposed surfaces of humans, including the skin, eyes, nose, mouth and the respiratory tract, which directly communicate with the atmosphere.
He listed the many challenges people could face during this period to include cracking of lips, cold, dry skin, catarrh and cough, among others.
He said: “The skin can become dry during harmattan season due to the dry wind. When the skin is dry, it becomes wrinkled. The skin can also have cracks, which can degenerate into bruises. Also, people have a tendency to develop skin rashes during harmattan, which can also induce itching, through which they may inadvertently introduce infections to the skin.
“So, people need to be well hydrated at this period, and use emollient creams, which help in moisturising the skin. Adequate fluid intake can also prevent heatstroke. If one has bad cracks on the skin, there is the need to wear clothes that will cover the feet and other parts of the body that are prone to dryness. It is very necessary to wear appropriate clothes, depending on the temperature.”
Omojowolo noted that harmattan could also predispose people to asthmatic attacks, sneezing and coughs. He said the season comes with plenty of dust, pollen and hay fever, which cause irritation, inflammation of the airways, as well as triggers allergic reactions, adding that crust and dryness in the nostrils may also predispose to epistaxis.
“It is safer sometimes to wear sunglasses to protect the eyes, where the winds are quite dusty and harsh, to prevent infections and irritations. People should observe high level of personal hygiene to prevent the spread of such infection as flu and tuberculosis from person to person through sneezing and coughing,” he said.
Dr. Modupe Akinyinka, a Senior lecturer and Consultant Public Health Physician at Department of Community Health and Primary Health Care Lagos State University College of Medicine (LASUCOM), highlighted the need to cover the nose and mouth with a mask or towel, when it is dusty.
“It is equally important to avoid or reduce outdoor activities, especially if individuals have allergies. People should wear clothes that keep the body warm, get medical help if they have running, itchy, sneezing, and stuffy nose or red, itchy, and watery eyes. They should always use moisturisers to prevent dry skin and dry palms, as well as lip balm to prevent cracked lips.”
She urged parents to monitor their children closely and close windows and doors, when it is very dusty.
A family physician, Dr. Chuks Ogunbor, said people should take frequent breaks in cool or shaded area and should dress in light, loose clothing.
He said: “There is need to wear hat, sunglasses, as well as a sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF) to protect skin from sunburn. There are a few heat-relief activities people can do at home to help keep cool. First, keep water in a spray bottle to use as a refreshing spritzer. Keep this in the fridge for an extra refresh. Second, people should freeze water in a cup or bottle (for portability) to enjoy the melting, ice-cold water. They can add some fruit to the water for flavour. Keep the room cooler by keeping the curtains drawn and using a no-bake recipe book. For a nice cool draft, put ice in a shallow pan in front of a fan to sit and enjoy the coolness. If you know your region will be experiencing a heat wave, take some additional precautions to ensure your safety and the safety of others.”
Ogunbor said people should know the humidex rating, by combining the temperature and humidity to indicate how hot the weather is to the average person.
He continued: “Dress for the heat and for your activity level. Wear light, loose clothing to let air circulate and the heat to escape. Slow down your activities as it gets hotter. Do not work, exercise, or play outside for an extended period of time. Take frequent breaks if you must work outdoors to let your body cool off. Avoid caffeine and alcohol because they can cause dehydration, which stops your body from controlling its temperature properly.
“Watch for symptoms of heat illness, such as dizziness or fainting, nausea or vomiting, rapid breathing and heartbeat, extreme thirst, decreased urination, with unusually dark yellow urine, changes of behaviour in children.
If you are unclear that heat illness is occurring, if you have any symptoms of heat illness during extreme heat, move to a cool place and drink water. But if symptoms don’t improve, then see your physician.
“Check on family, friends and neighbours who do not have air conditioning, who spend much of their time alone or who are more likely to be affected by the heat. Check on your animals frequently to ensure that they are not suffering from the heat.”
He explained that people should be fully prepared by taking a Nigerian Red Cross First Aid course to learn the signs, symptoms and treatment of heat-related illnesses.
“Most of us welcome hot weather, but when it’s too hot for too long, there are health risks,” he said. “In Nigeria, there are on average 2000 heat-related deaths every year. The main risks posed by a hot weather, if individuals do not drink enough water is dehydration and overheating, which can make symptoms worse for people who already have problems with their heart or breathing, heat exhaustion and heatstroke.”