Harmattan spikes asthmatic attacks, worsen health conditions, fuels wild fire

‘People go about with cracked lips, feet, soles’

We make more money during Harmattan –Spa



The long held opinion that Harmattan does not occur in Lagos is currently being dismissed as the state is facing an intense harmattan, especially cold and haze, leaving children and adults with cracked lips, feet and soles. CHIJIOKE IREMEKA writes on how Nigerian can escape the scourge of this harsh climatic condition that has spiked crisis in asthmatic patient and others



For a very long time in the history of Lagos State Meteorological situation, the state has never had it this cold and harsh during Harmattan. In fact, the regular saying that there is no harmattan in Lagos was put to litmus test last week when the state experienced and still experiencing harmattan with different vigor.

Strange enough, many people are going about with cracked lips and heels, which explain the intensity of the current harmattan in the country. People now bathe with slightly above warm water while many others shun morning bath.

Of course, the children are warned not to take their bathe until later in the day to ensure that they do not suffer cold or pneumonia as a result of the harmattan.

In Lagos today, one is beginning to see people dressed as though they live in Jos and other parts of the country known to be experiencing extreme coldness during and out of the seasons.

However, harmattan is a season in the West African subcontinent, which occurs between the end of November and the middle of March. It is characterised by the dry and dusty northeasterly trade wind, of the same name, which blows from the Sahara Desert over West Africa into the Gulf of Guinea.

It’s that time of the year again when the dry air attacks our nostrils; there’s dust everywhere and the skin tends to get ashy quickly. The Harmattan season is pigeonholed by dry, draughty air, dust and cold.

Visiting Nigeria for the first time during this period might give a whole different experience. In some parts of Nigeria, such as Lagos, harmattan can hardly be felt during the period until last week. Places closer to the Sahara/Gulf of Guinea which are in the direction of the wind, harmattan effects can be quite severe.

For many states, harmattan is characterised by very cold temperatures, especially in the morning/night and very hot weather in the afternoon. The humidity also drops really low and the air is dusty. This means the skin has a tendency to dry up quickly and the wind can be very assaulting to the respiratory system.

The temperature is cold in most places, but can also be hot in certain places, depending on local circumstances. The Harmattan blows during the dry season, which occurs during the lowest-sun months.

In this season thesubtropical ridge of high pressure stays over the central Sahara Desert and the low-pressure Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) stays over the Gulf of Guinea. On its passage over the Sahara, the harmattan picks up fine dust and sand particles.

This season differs from winter, because it is written off as cold, dry, dust-laden wind, and also wide fluctuations in the ambient temperatures of the day and night.

Sunday Telegraph learnt that temperatures can easily be as low as 9 °C (48 °F) all day, but sometimes in the afternoon, the temperature can also soar to as high as 30 °C (86 °F), while the relative humidity drops under five per cent. Humidity drops to as low as 15%, can result in spontaneous nosebleeds for some people.

“My son came complaining, ‘my mouth is paining me,’ and a close examination of his mouth, I discovered that his lower lip has cracked and I needed to apply Vaseline on his lips to ensure that it doesn’t go beyond that,” said Mrs. Esther Ibeneme.

“This is what many children in the neighbourhood are suffering from now and I started wondering the harshness of the current harmattan in the state. In fact, in the past one week in Lagos, it was hell. I felt it as an adult. There was a day I almost didn’t take my bath due to cold until late night yet I didn’t sweat,” she added, wondering the reason for the harsh harmattan in the state.

Pastor Victor Balogun said harmattan is his worst season in the year as it makes him sick and uncomfortable. “I wish this season doesn’t come but it will come and do its work and fulfill the purpose it was created. But I don’t like at all,” he said.

Sequel it these experiences that people go through due to changes in weather, and owing to the reality on the ground, experts have warned on how to survive harmattan period and also issued safety precaution to be followed to cushion its effect in the country.

Sunday Telegraph observes that surviving the harmattan season is not all about attire you wear. However, it is one of the key things you must consciously do to stay healthy throughout such season.

A surgeon and a medical doctor at the Havannah Hospital, Victoria Island, Lagos, Dr. Cynthia Obiora said a good knowledge of what to wear at the right time is key during this season, saying the early hours of the day are always extremely cold during harmattan.

“As such, you should try to wear thick clothes to keep the body warm. Those who work in offices with a number of air-conditioners should always have their body properly covered during such period,” she warned.

Dr. Obiora’s husband is currently being affected by the season, which he called the worst season for him as it makes him sick and brings about different health challenges to him including running noise and wheezing breathing.

Corroborating him, the Medical Director of LifeCrest Medical Services, Dr. Malomo Bamidele, also cautioned Nigerians against exposing their bodies to cold during Harmattan to guard against pneumonia and other complications associated with the season.

He said a cold that gets worse can turn into pneumonia because the cold will irritate the lungs, creating an environment where it becomes easy for germs to start an infection.

According to him, studies have shown that pneumonia is the leading cause of death among children under five, saying it is necessary to take precautions, especially in caring for the children.

He noted that pneumonia is most common among those with weak or compromised immune systems and people suffering from other diseases, saying it’s important to give children foods rich in vitamins, especially fresh fruits to help them in this period.

The general physician stated that people become dehydrated easily during the season, hence there is the need for people to avoid carbonated drinks and juices, rather drink enough water, at least, 1.5 litres of water every day, which would help in keeping the whole body system working optimally.

“It is important to increase the amount of fluid and fruits intakes such as watermelon, oranges among others. Staying hydrated keeps the skin refreshed and glowing while helping the body to function optimally,” he added.

He believes that using skin moisturisers is a must during the season as they will increase the skin’s water content by reducing evaporation, saying that Vitamin C intake would help reduce the likelihood of one contracting catarrh.

More so, the past President of Nigerian Thoracic Society (NTC), who is also the Foundation Asthma foundation, Ile-Ife, Osun State, Rev., Prof. Gregory Erhabor said the season which breeds a lot of dust will affect asthmatic patients.

He described Asthma as a chronic disease branded by recurrent attacks of breathlessness and wheezing, which vary in severity and frequency from person to person.

According to him, during an asthma attack, the lining of the bronchial tubes swells, causing the airways to narrow and reducing the flow of air into and out of the lungs.

He noted that this can be worsen by dusty environment which comes with harmattan, adding that cold is also one of the triggers of asthma hence the need for the children to be kept warm with extra clothing and sweaters.

He said: “For asthmatic patients, the dusty winds of harmattan can trigger attacks. This is why they should stay away from dusty areas and have their inhalers on them at all times.

“Wearing of a nose or face mask is advisable during this period when one has to be in contact with dusty environment. The weather is very dusty now, don’t allow your child to play where dust will be raised.

“Asthmatic person must avoid areas where people smoke or burn bushes. Use tiles in the rooms instead of carpets and rugs that harbour dust. Wet floors before sweeping to prevent rising dust.

“Also, avoid cleaning chemicals, soaps and perfumes with very strong odour that can trigger asthma. If your child is asthmatic visit the school to make sure he/she sits far away from the chalk board. Chalk dust can also trigger asthma

“Use allergy proof covers on pillows and beddings. Be sure to wash beddings in hot water above 130 degrees Fahrenheit to remove dust mites. Use a dehumidifier to remove excess moisture.”

He added that there’s nothing worse than an empty inhaler canister during asthma attack, urging the parents/guardians to always ensure that their children have extra asthma inhalers at home and in school.

Sunday Telegraph learnt during harmattan, there dangers of wild fire is the reason those who use cooking gas at home should ensure they check their cookers to ensure that outbreak of fire is nipped in the bud.

Also, caution should be exercised with electrical appliances while you should avoid any illegal electrical connections. Notably, try and procure fire extinguishers in case of any emergency.

An environmentalist, Mr. Samuel Chukwunulu, said fires tend to get aggravated during harmattan hence there is the need avoid burning indiscriminately insisting that any form of domestic burning in this season must be well monitored.

Chukwunulu said most fire accidents happen in this season because everywhere is dry and the fire can travel easily without restrictions.

Speaking further on harmattan agriculture, experts advised Nigerian farmers to take precautionary measures against man-made disasters during the period.

A soil scientist, Prof. Victor Chude said that farmers should avoid indiscriminate bush burning after they have harvested their crops.

Chude said that farmers should gather trashes at various spots before burning bushes as a way of clearing the land before the next cropping season.

He said that bush burning during harmattan could be very disastrous as it could affect the neighbouring farms with economic trees and destroy important micro nutrients in the soil.

He said: “We will not advise farmers to just set the whole farm ablaze as a way of clearing his land because it will be difficult to control.

“If it is a forest area where the undergrowth is very thick, the duration of burning will be longer and this is very destructive to some essential soil micro-organisms in the soil that perform the job of “mineralisation” of nutrients in their organic form and make them soluble.

“When those micro-organisms are destroyed, the nutrient will remain in the organic form and in terms of availability to crops during cropping, it will be a problem.

“What we advise them is to first slash and then do spot burning; if there are trees, they should do selective cutting of trees so that the whole place is not exposed to erosion.”

Also, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has issued Advisory Circular to intimate pilots, operators and other stakeholders about dust haze and safety approach to adopt.

The Advisory Circular AC: NCAA-AEROMET-28 dated November 12, 2019 is intended to alert pilots to the hazards associated with dust haze which is a dry and dusty wind that blows south from the Sahara across Nigeria. This situation is expected to persist till March, 2020.

The Circular singed by NCAA’s General Manager, Public Relations, Sam Adurogboye, as issued by the Nigerian Meteorological Agency in its Seasonal Rainfall Prediction Bulletin-2019, the cessation of the rainy season is predicted from mid-October (in the Northern part) to early December, 2019 (in the Southern part).

It reads in part: “With the issuance of this circular, Advisory Circular AC: NCAA – AEROMET 27 dated March 26, 2019 is accordingly cancelled. Pilots/Operators are, therefore, directed to note the following hazards and operational problems forthwith: Air-to-ground visibility may be considerably reduced due to dust haze; aerodrome visibility may fall below the prescribed operating minima and in severe conditions, dust haze can blot out runways, markers and airfield lightings over wide areas making visual navigation extremely difficult or impossible; and flights are bound to be delayed, diverted or cancelled where terminal visibility falls below the prescribed aerodrome operating minima.

“On the other hand, enumerated below are series of responsibilities for Pilots, Operators and Air Traffic Controllers: Pilots shall exercise maximum restraint when severe weather condition is observed or forecast by Nimet; Flight Crews/Operators and Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) shall ensure adherence to aerodrome weather minima; All Pilots shall obtain adequate departure, en-route, destination and alternate aerodromes weather information and briefing from the aerodrome meteorological office prior to flight operations; and

“Operators shall ensure that necessary measures are put in place to cushion the effects of flight delays or cancellations on their passengers. From the foregoing, the regulatory authority will expect strict compliance from all stakeholders as violation will be seriously viewed.”

A stylist and hair dresser, Lady Cyndi Ilomunya said harmattan affects women hair in two ways, both positively and aversely.

According to her, during the harmattan, there some hairstyles that are weather-friendly, especially braiding and fixing, saying that harmattan season is not the time for wearing of natural hair.

She said: “Natural hairs during this season suffer tip breakage. If you try to comb your hair, you will see that the tips of the hairs will be cutting off and to prevent this, you have to braid your hair or go for another suitable hair do.

“For Nigerian females who mostly have some kind of hair, harmattan can cause serious problem to the hair. It can cause dry tips and hair breakage. The person needs to wear a hairstyle that keeps your hair ends hidden and ensure she applies hair cream.”

According to Olaoluwa Oloyede, another hairstylist, harmattan is not the time to manipulate one’s hair excessively.

She said: “You will say, ‘But I want to do 1 million braids for Christmas,’ ‘I want tiny Ghana-weaving,’ ‘I want to make three different styles before the New Year.’ I understand, but the health of your hair should not be compromised.

“You can do hairstyles that do not require too much manipulation like normal or chunky braids and twist and weaves among others. You need to protect your hair with protective styles like box braids, Senegalese twists, wigs (my favorite), faux locs, etc. You can even add some spice to protective styling with turbans and head wraps.”

However, for Tobi Salako, a Spa operator, this is the season they make more money. “We make money during the harmattan due to cracked feet, soles, lips and rough skins that come with the season. Customers pay money to clear them,” he said.

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