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Staying healthy during harmattan

By Paul Adunwoke
23 December 2018   |   3:25 am
The harmattan has brought in its trail dust and dry air. Curiously, in place of what was supposed to be cold weather, there is intense heat, which could lead to dehydration, if not properly handled. To avoid or minimise the harsh effects of the weather, medical experts have advised that people should avoid unnecessary exposure.…

[FILE] Harmattan

The harmattan has brought in its trail dust and dry air. Curiously, in place of what was supposed to be cold weather, there is intense heat, which could lead to dehydration, if not properly handled.

To avoid or minimise the harsh effects of the weather, medical experts have advised that people should avoid unnecessary exposure. They recommend that a lot of water be consumed to counter the dryness and hydrate the body all through the day, and even the night.

Signs of dehydration include yellow urine, headache, muscle cramps, fatigue, less urination, light-headedness and constipation.

Dr. Modupe Akinyinka, Senior lecturer and Consultant Public Health Physician at Department of Community Health and Primary Health Care Lagos State University College of Medicine (LASUCOM stated that during this dry season, the commonest sickness include cough and sneezing.

So, it is essential that adults and children avoid exposing themselves to dust.

She said: “When people are exposed to hot weather, it is certain they will sweat and become dehydrated. Drinking a lot of water helps to ensure the skin has enough fluid to replace the quantity lost as sweat. It is also needed to get rid of toxins in the body.

“The recommended consumption of at least four litres of water daily in normal circumstances should be observed.

But in this hot season, people are advised to take even more, as this keeps the skin soft, helps the kidneys to function maximally, as well as lubricates joints and muscles, thereby reducing the likelihood of fatigue.

“Anybody who takes less than four litres of water a day is not taking enough, which is not good for the body in this hot season.

“Even though people are advised to, as much as possible, limit their exposure to the hot weather, there is always compelling need for people to go in the hot whether due to job demands or emergency situations. Findings have shown that the hot weather is usually intense between 10am and 4pm.”

So, when there is a compelling need to go out in the hot weather, Akinyinka said it would be better for people to wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeve shirts/dresses and hats with broad brims, to protect the face, scalp and ears from the hotness.

“This would help to keep the skin supple and help avoid skin irritations and wrinkles, especially in children, because they have low immunity. In addition, people should avoid going out early in the morning, whether they drive or walk. They should make sure it is dawn before going to places of work.

“It is important for people to remain in the shade as much as possible, especially during the peak hours of the hot weather, to minimise exposure and the tendency to sweat.”

Saying that people should avoid bush burning, which is rampant during this season, Akinyinka noted that the habit makes rodents run into homes for protection.

There, they deposit excreta on floors, tables, beds and foods, which causes Lassa fever. So, there is need to maintain clean environments.

She said: “The foods that are contaminated by rodents include, garri, yam, rice and beans, among others. So, people should cover their foods properly, avoid taking soaked garri that was not well covered. They should not eat foods without properly warming them. People should clean their houses very well to avoid dust in homes, which can lead to infection from dust.”

Former President Association of Resident Doctors in Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Dr. Olubunmi Omojowolo, said harmattan has far-reaching medical implication, as it consists of fine dust particles between 0.5 and 10 micrometres. 

He said: “The weather affects all exposed surfaces of humans such as the skin, eyes, nose, mouth and the respiratory tract, which directly communicate with the atmosphere. There are so many challenges one could face during this period.

“The skin can become dry during harmattan as a result of the dry wind. When the skin is dry, it becomes wrinkled. The skin can also have cracks, which can degenerate into bruises. People also have a tendency to develop skin rashes during harmattan season, which can also induce itching. They may thereby inadvertently introduce infections to the skin.

“Therefore, people need to be well hydrated during the 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 would cover the feet and other parts of the body prone to dryness. It is very necessary to wear appropriate cloths.

“The harmattan can also predispose people to asthmatic attacks, sneezing and coughs. There is plenty of dust, pollen and hay fever, which cause irritation, inflammation of the airways and triggers allergic reactions. Crust and dryness in the nostrils may also predispose to epistaxis.

“It is safer sometimes, to wear sunglasses to protect eyes, where the winds are quite dusty and harsh, to prevent infections and irritations. People should observe high level personal hygiene to prevent the spread of such infection as flu, tuberculosis from person to person through sneezing and coughing.”

A Consultant Family Physician Dr. Chukwuma Ogunbor said: “There are other hazards associated with human interaction with the environment during this period. During harmattan, there is an increased tendency to breathe dry air with lots of dusty particles, which leads to increased incidence of sneezing, nose bleeding, cough, catarrh and sore throat. It can also trigger attacks in asthmatic patients.

“To prevent some of these respiratory diseases indoors, we must wash our curtains, clean our windows, fans and air conditioner filters, as well as avoid fluffy rugs or regularly vacuum clean them. It is advisable to drink lots of water during this period. Steam inhalation, with water not too hot to burn the face, helps to smooth the airway. Minor nosebleeds, due to breakage of small blood vessels during aggressive sneezing can heal with little or no first aid, but if it continues, the individual should approach a health facility for care, as there could be other causes that must be arrested. Lozenges helps with sore throat, but one must seek proper health care, if symptoms persist.”

Ogunbor reminded asthmatic patients to always be with their inhaler and those on medications to be compliant.

He said: “Dusty particles in the air can find their way into the eyes and can cause tearing, redness, itching and allergic eye diseases. So, it is advisable to wash eyes with clean water. Non-medicated protective eyeglasses can also be used. Doctors might prescribe simple allergic eye drops to relief uncomplicated allergic eye diseases.

“The harmattan season overlaps with meningitis season. So, with the increased incidence of respiratory diseases, mothers are advised to ensure their children are vaccinated. We must not wait for this period because the positive effects of immunisation are far–reaching and protect against diseases we do not know when they might attack.

“The harmattan haze is also associated with poor visibility occurring during the festive season. With lots of vehicular movements, there is increased rate of road accidents in the early and late part of the day.

“So, motorists and road users are advised to be cautious, drive slowly and use their headlamps. Road emergency teams must be alert to respond to unforeseen circumstances”.

“The harmattan season is associated with known health hazards, most of which can be prevented. Prevention has always remained better than cure. So, everyone must be cautious.”