What to Expect during Harmattan

That the harmattan, dry dusty northeasterly wind is here is no news, but what is, is that the low temperature associated with it, is unfavorable for breeding of mosquitoes thus reducing the incidence of malaria. Expectedly, that should be good news to those prone to malaria attacks due to mosquito bites. But for babies and the elderly, harmattan is not a friend. Why? The reason is that during this season, such persons are prone to hypothermia, which is when the core body temperature is dangerously low, say, below 35 degrees centigrade.

The skin, the eyes and the respiratory tract, which directly communicate with the atmosphere, the latter via the nose and mouth, are most vulnerable to the adverse effects of this weather. The skin is usually dry with accompanying cracking of the lips, soles of the feet and even the skin itself. The body extremities (hands and feet) are sometimes too cold thereby generating unpleasant symptoms.

The eyes are directly exposed to the harsh weather especially the dust particles carried by the wind. Thus itching, foreign body sensation and redness may be common especially in individuals with allergic eye disease. Proper eye hygiene in form of washing with clean water, reduce exposure to dust and protective spectacles, are advocated. The respiratory system, because of its direct communication with the atmosphere, is heavily and badly affected. The respiratory tract has a defensive mechanism that stops harmful particles in the air from getting to the lungs. This defense may however be overwhelmed by the concentration of the pollutants in the atmosphere, depending on the health status of a person or owing to fine particles that escape entrapment thus causing damage to the system.

Excessive sneezing, cough and catarrh are some of the symptoms common to most people. The harmattan period is also not the best of weather for people with pre-existing chronic chest infections. Worthy of mention is asthma, a chronic long-term disease that makes it hard to breathe, due to inflammatory congestion in the lower respiratory tract. These groups should pay special attention to their health, taking all possible and practicable measures to reduce exposure to the dusty atmosphere in addition to having their inhalers with them all the time. The skin can be kept healthy by topical application of oily creams and weather friendly dressing. This is perhaps the best time to explore the advantage of wearing warmer outfits as it pleases one, to keep warm.

Oluwajimi Shodipo, Family Medicine Specialist, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja, said that harmattan dust increases cases of respiratory infections such as asthma, cough, catarrh, tonsillitis, influenza, and pneumonia. “Harmattan comes with dust that can trigger asthma and bronchitis attacks as well as cause cold, cough, catarrh, and even meningitis. This gives discomfort to people with certain allergic conditions as well as causes infections. Asthma patients should be cautious. They tend to have more attacks because harmattan carries dust, pollen grains and other allergenic materials capable of triggering attacks,” he said.

Shodipo advised patients to visit health facilities for proper diagnosis and treatment.

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