Monday, June 17, 2013

When Is The Haze Dangerous And Other Important Haze Facts

Singapore may not have autumn, winter, summer or spring but people now joke that we have our own four seasons; hot, wet, flood and haze. While the flood is localised to certain parts of the island, there's no escaping the haze for any of us when it hits. The haze situation in Singapore is caused by winds bringing in smoke from the forest fires in Sumatra, usually during the period of May to October. Authorities in the South-East Asia region are working with their Indonesian counterparts to combat this haze problem, but for the time being, it looks like the haze will remain an annual event for the foreseeable future.

We've grown so used to the haze that it's quickly become the butt of jokes. However, the air we end up breathing may contain particulate matter, carbon monoxide, dirt and other pollutants that affect our health.  Dr. Muhammad Iqbal, who runs his own practice, The Cliniq, cautions, “The main potential danger of the haze is respiratory illness although it can also affect the eyes and skin. Asthmatics are definitely at a higher risk but I have also been seeing many children and babies who are down with breathing problems. These are the susceptible groups, along with the elderly.”

When Is The Haze Considered Unhealthy?
The National Environment Agency (NEA) measures air pollution levels through a system called the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI). A PSI value in the range of 0 to 50 is considered 'Good' while a PSI value in the range of 101 to 200 is considered 'Unhealthy'. Anything above 300 is considered 'Hazardous'.
When the air quality reaches 'Unhealthy' levels, it is more likely to trigger mild aggravation of respiratory illness symptoms among those suffering from chronic lung or heart ailments. For others, it may affect you by triggering coughs, eye irritation and sneezing. The NEA has summarised the air quality categories as based on PSI and how they affect your general health.

Is It Safe To Exercise Outdoors?
The health advisory by the NEA advises the public to reduce physical exertion and outdoor activities. Dr. Iqbal agrees, “I would advise against exercising outdoors in the haze unless the place isn't as affected, such as locations with thick vegetation.” But he suggests that asthmatics, and those with rescue inhalers, should keep their inhalers handy at all times. “These inhalers may be their instant remedy should sudden bronchoconstriction set in,” Dr. Iqbal explains. Should you suffer from shortness of breath or persistent coughing, see your doctor, he says.
When Do You Need A Mask?
According to the NEA, you won't need a mask till the PSI level exceeds 150 in the 'Unhealthy' range, especially for those with existing heart and respiratory ailments or more susceptible to smoke haze. People with respiratory ailments are advised to consult their doctors before using respirator masks such as the N95 mask.
These masks are designed to keep out fine particles in the air. Surgical and paper masks do not provide the same amount of protection from the pollutants in the air. You can buy respirator masks from commercial pharmacies as well as SingHealth/ National Health Group polyclinics. Always consult with the pharmacists in attendance for advice on choosing the right mask and the proper instructions to use them.
Keep Yourself Updated On The Haze
You can refer to the NEA's website ( for hourly updates of 3-hr PSI and the relevant health advisory. Other ways to access the 3-hr PSI updates are at:

This article was adapted from


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