Saturday, 22 June 2013

How to Fight the Haze: The 2013 Edition

The haze is a chronic problem that has been going on for ages, but the most recent high of 400 on the PSI a few days ago broke the previous 1997 record high of 226. This shows how serious things are getting. PSI 100 is already considered "unhealthy", and Singapore's PSI has been hovering around the 200-300 range for the past few days, only dipping to below 100 today.

Recently there have been posts filled with advice on how to fight the haze and stay healthy, so here's my two cents on the matter!

1. Know the haze

Before we can figure out how to stay (relatively) healthy and well during this period, we have to know what causes the haze and when it happens. The haze usually happens in the second half of the year in Sumatra, Indonesia during the dry season, and is caused by the illegal burning of forests to clear land for agriculture.

This year's haze is especially bad due to changing wind patterns and an especially dry climate. Since the start of this week, there has been no rain to help mitigate the thick cloud of haze shrouding Singapore, worsening the situation. Take a look this NASA satellite image of the haze cloud moving towards Malaysia and Singapore:


It's pretty scary eh?

Singapore measures the haze using PSI (Pollutant Standards Index), which is a measure of particulate matter 10 microns in diameter or less (PM10). The measurement of PM2.5 (particulate matter 2.5 microns and below) is just as important (and perhaps even more so!) because these fine particles can travel deep into the lungs and allows harmful chemicals to cause illnesses in our bodies, such as cancer, stroke, damage to unborn children, respiratory illnesses, heart disease and even death. PM2.5 affects people with heart or respiratory diseases, the elderly, pregnant women and children the most. (Source)

The National Environment Agency of Singapore (NEA) has been monitoring PSI levels and PM2.5 levels across the island. PSI levels are published hourly on the NEA website in 3-hourly averages and PM2.5 readings are published in 24-hourly averages every hour.

While the PSI 3-hourly averages have dipped below the unhealthy level of 100 for now, we have to be vigilant and keep updated to ensure that we know when it reaches unhealthy levels! It's also a good idea to keep track of PM2.5, which are currently still at unhealthy levels. The 24h average of PM2.5 is hovering at 200+ µg/m3 and hasn't changed much since a couple of days ago, whereas the New York State guidelines for PM2.5 are at 35µg/m3, showing just how polluted the air is here.

2. Take care of your body

Okay, we now know how adversely the haze can affect our health. Now the question is: what are we going to do about it? We may not be able to stop the haze or greatly affect how our government or the Indonesian government handles the situation, but we can take measures to limit our exposure to the haze and keep ourselves as healthy as possible until it subsides.

Here's a helpful graphic by Singapore General Hospital (SGH) detailing the health effects of haze on the body:

Based on this graphic, I've summarised the health effects caused by the haze to different parts of the body and added in some solutions (some from the graphic, and some of my own).

  1. Nose
    Effects: Breathing problems, sneezing and increased mucus production
    Solutions: Use nasal sprays to reduce inflammation, use inhalers for any pre-existing asthmatic conditions (if necessary).

  2. Airways and lungs
    Effects: Coughing, increased phlegm and a dry throat
    Solutions: Use air purifiers and stay in air-conditioned rooms as the air inside is filtered. Wear an N95 mask (90% effectiveness) or surgical mask (30% effectiveness) when outside to reduce inhalation of particles that can irritate the lungs. Drink lots of water and suck on lozenges to increase saliva production.

  3. Skin
    Effects: Skin irritation, eczema may worsen, dry skin (from remaining in air-conditioning for long hours), harmful effects of smog (the haze) on the skin when in contact with UV rays, causing free-radical damage
    Solutions: Use moisturiser three to four times a day to help protect and condition the skin. Use sunscreen when outdoors and exposed to sunlight to minimise free-radical damage. Wear long-sleeved tops and long pants or skirts to minimise exposure to UV rays and the haze.

  4. Eyes
    Effects: Dry eyes and burning sensations
    Solutions: Avoid wearing contact lenses and wear wrap-around glasses. Use preservative-free lubricants every hour (or when necessary) to remove allergens.

  5. Heart
    Effects: Heart rate increases, blood pressure increases, blood may clot more easily. Possible heart attack or heart failure.
    Solutions: If under medication for high blood pressure, continue to do so. See a doctor if any abnormal conditions arise. Do not exert yourself or exercise vigorously. Avoid going outdoors if possible.

Other more general pieces of advice would be to eat your fruits and veggies (at least 2 servings a day), health supplements (if necessary) and drink lots of water to ensure your body is in good health. It's also important to sleep early when possible, and have enough rest (7 hours a day for adults). If you keep your immune system strong, you're less likely to fall ill, especially during this period.

3. Take care of your face

My face is clearly part of my body, but I'm including a separate section on how to take care of facial skin as it's more delicate and more susceptible to adverse effects compared to skin on the other parts of the body.

Some basic advice:
  • Wear a mask
    This will not only protect you from breathing in particles that can irritate your airways; it can also protect a part of your face from UV radiation! N95 masks are being made available at all major supermarkets (NTUC, Cold Storage) and individual hardware/household product stores now. Each person is allowed to buy 10 masks for $28, and there's a 10% sale on them in Unity pharmacies now, I believe.

  • Wear sunscreen
    You can either slap on sunscreen or a make up product with sun protection. Make sure that the sunscreen provides broad-spectrum protection (i.e. protection from UVA and UVB rays) and is at least SPF 30. Reapply when necessary.

  • Remove make up and sunscreen thoroughly at the end of the day
    I haven't been wearing make up (apart from BB cream) since the haze started. Make up, combined with the dirt from the smog, increased oil production and skin irritation can cause pimples and acne to worsen. If you use make up, do remove all make up thoroughly with a make up cleanser and facial wash (double cleansing). Sunscreen also has to be removed using make up remover.

  • Wash make up brushes regularly
    This is a piece of advice that should be followed whether the weather be fine or whether the weather be not, whether the weather be- Alright I'll stop there. Washing make up brushes ensures that dirt and germs aren't transferred to your skin from using the brushes. Wash brushes once a week and if possible, use a make up removing spray on them after each use. Good hygiene will help you to have good skin!

  • Use skincare products that are moisturising and have anti-oxidants
    A basic skincare routine would be cleanser, toner, moisturiser and sunscreen. I'm currently using products that are more moisturising as the weather is much drier now. You can also consider products that contain anti-oxidants like Vitamin C, Green Tea, Pomegranate etc.

    I'd recommend the Neutrogena Hydro Boost line of products (they allow for the controlled release of moisturising ingredients). The Naruko Rose & Snow Fungus line also moisturises well and contains anti-oxidants. Another option would be Hada Labo products, which contain high levels of hyaluronic acid, an ingredient that is extremely moisturising to the skin. All products are available at Watsons stores. Below are pictures of the above-mentioned products for your reference!

Neutrogena Hydro Boost

Naruko Rose & Snow Fungus

Hada Labo

My skin is currently acting up, and I suspect it may be due to the haze and the stress it's causing on my body. Perhaps it's also due to the long hours I'm spending in air-conditioning - did you know that dry skin leads causes pimples to form? To combat the pimples that are sprouting up, I'm using 100% tea tree oil (you can mix it with other essential oils e.g. lavender oil or jojoba oil if pure tea tree oil stings your skin too much).

4. Look out for your neighbour

In adverse conditions, the best and worst of human behaviour is brought out. Singaporeans have been looking out for each other in many ways. From updating each other on the latest information through social media networks, to creating a list of companies that have issued work at home orders, to distributing masks and herbal tea for free to the elderly and the needy... One very savvy programmer even created a DIY Particle Counter to help monitor the amount of tiny particles in the air!

That being said, there have been reports of masks being sold at a profit ($10 for one mask when the cost price is only a few dollars), which really show the ugly side of human nature - profiting from others' misery. The panic buying of N95 masks has also happened even though each person really only needs a few masks to last a week (N95s are effective for up to a few days). This has deprived others e.g. the sick, the elderly, children who need the masks more urgently.

In any case, watching this video still gives me hope that Singaporeans care for each other. Looking out for our neighbours means helping them through tough times - everyone needs a little care.

5. Keep your furry friends safe

For those of you who have pets, I'm sure you're very concerned about how to keep them healthy during this period of haze. I've heard of cats, hamsters and birds dying due to prolonged exposure to the haze, so pet owners, please take note of the following advice contributed by Mount Pleasant Animal Medical Centre!

If your pet is experiencing any abnormal conditions, please visit the vet straight away for treatment.

6. Don't lose your sense of humour

It's true that everyone feels distressed, helpless, frustrated and angry that the haze situation is persisting. It's not easy to see the humour in such a situation, especially when it has serious effects on health, but we can try to lighten the mood a little with some humour. Humour helps to boost and strengthen the immune system and reduces stress after all!

Here are some really funny haze-related things (quite a variety of types) I've spotted*:

While walking through the Garden of Eden, Adam saw God at work and asked, "God, what are you doing?" 
"I am making a country called Singapore. I am placing her near the equator so the weather is always warm and sunny, and her people will never suffer bitter cold nor unforgiving desert heat. She will also always be protected from any natural disasters. Her location will be strategically supreme so she will flourish as one of the world's busiest ports, travel spots, and business and education hubs. Her size will be compact yet optimal to set the stage for political and economic excellence, allowing for low crime rates and high living standards for a truly multi-cultural, well-educated and highly skilled developed country. 
"Wow," said Adam, "But, God, why are you making Singapore so perfect?" "Ha!" God replied, "Wait till you see the neighbours I'm giving her..." -- Yu Ting Goh (on Facebook)

The Haze Playlist: 
• "We Didn't Start the Fire" - Billy Joel
• "Leave me breathless" - The Corrs
• "Harder to Breathe" - Maroon 5
• "Blurred Lines" - Robin Thicke
• "Purple Haze" - Jimi Hendrix
• "Smoke on the Water" - Deep Purple
• "Smoke gets in your eyes" - Jo Stafford
• "The Fog" - Kate Bush
• "A Foggy Day" - Fred Astaire
• "Firestarter" - Prodigy
• "Beds are Burning" - Midnight Oil
• "Light my Fire" - The Doors
(Source: Bloomberg

A creative McDonald's ad

Eye-catching Cadbury Hazelnut ad

Couple braves the haze to take wedding photos

Tribute to the queue for Hello Kitties at McD's in the haze

*Disclaimer: These jokes and quips are not meant to offend. I'm quoting them for entertainment's sake, and do not endorse any form of discrimination on any of the above-mentioned parties.

7. Contribute to an environmentally sustainable future

The haze is not the only environmental problem that's affecting Singapore and the world at large. To contribute to an environmentally sustainable future, we should all take responsibility as consumers and make informed decisions. This means supporting eco-friendly companies and practices, and boycotting companies that contribute to the destruction of the environment through practices such as deforestation and chemical dumping. Governments can implement policies to restrict environmentally-destructive practices, but we as consumers also have the responsibility to be aware of the companies we buy from.

We should also try to reduce our carbon footprint (measured by emissions of greenhouse gases) by following the 3 R's (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), using less air-conditioning and taking public transport instead of driving.

Equipped with all this information, let's fight the haze and fight environmental destruction so that we can exist in harmony with our Earth!

Rachel loves sharing about the beautiful things in life from different perspectives. She writes on beauty and lifestyle in Cherchez Beauté , and does more abstract stuff on Antelune . When she's not writing, she's playing with her dog Holly, doodling and reading fiction. You can follow her on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram .