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Protecting Your Child Against The Haze

27 September 2019

Singapore has narrowly escaped the haze for a good three years. Unfortunately earlier this month, the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) crossed the “unhealthy” range of above 100 once again. 

According to the National Environment Agency (NEA), hotspot activities from as many as 115 areas in Sumatra can be expected to persist. Although recent showers have brought some improvement to the haze situation, Singapore may continue to experience hazy conditions depending on the direction of prevailing winds.

How Does The Haze Impact My Child? 

The health impact of haze is dependent on one’s health status, the PSI level, as well as the duration and intensity of outdoor activity. 

In healthy individuals, short term exposure to haze generally does not cause major health concerns, besides possible irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat. 

However, newborns and young children are at higher risk and more susceptible to poor air quality. This is because they are only equipped with an immature immune system and developing lungs. 

Some symptoms of adverse reactions to haze are: 

  • Itchy, watery or red eyes 
  • Runny nose
  • Blocked nose 
  • Sneezing
  • Dry irritant cough 
  • Dry/ sore throat
  • Breathing difficulty

Children with pre-existing medical conditions such as asthma, allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis, and chronic heart conditions may have a higher sensitivity to the haze, and thus experience the symptoms above in more severe forms. 

In response to haze, the aforementioned medical conditions may also worsen and flare up. Children with asthma may suffer an asthma attack that requires emergency medical attention.

It is important to note that especially in young children, prolonged exposure to haze conditions over months or years has been linked to increased risk of lung disease, such as reduced lung development, reduced lung function and chronic lung conditions, e.g. asthma and bronchitis. 

Health Precautions For Your Child

First and foremost, the key to limiting negative impacts of haze exposure is to limit your child’s outdoor activities and physical exertion. 

Other precautions include: 

  • Newborn babies should stay indoors, especially when the PSI reading reaches 100 and beyond. 
  • Parents should keep doors and windows closed at higher PSI levels, while using a fan or air-conditioning.
  • Filters of the air-conditioner should be checked and cleaned regularly. 
  • Choose air purifiers with a HEPA filter that is effective in removing air impurities
  • Avoid air purifiers that produce ozone gas which can be harmful to newborns. 
  • Ensure your child eats a well balanced diet while staying hydrated

For children with pre-existing medical conditions: 

  • Regular medication should continue to be administered as per doctor’s advice 
  • Seek immediate medical attention upon feeling unwell or worsening of symptoms 
  • Children with asthma should step up medications according to their written asthma action plan if the PSI is high (>100) or if they experience asthma symptoms (such as cough, wheezing, or shortness of breath) 

Face masks are unsafe for newborns and N95 masks are not suitable for use in young children. In some cases, face masks may even make your child’s breathing more laboured, potentially worsening any existing breathing difficulty. 

It is advised to be alert to any changes in your newborn or young child’s health as well as any symptoms present. Should your child experience breathing difficulties or any severe symptoms, please seek prompt medical care from a qualified paediatrician. 

SOG Paediatricians 

Dr. Petrina Wong is a fully accredited specialist in Paediatrics, with a focus on respiratory conditions. Her paediatric respiratory services include the evaluation and treatment of lung infections, wheezing and asthma, chronic cough, allergic rhinitis and more. 

Dr. Wong currently operates at SOG – Petrina Wong Clinic for Children Respiratory and Sleep in Gleneagles Medical Centre and at SOG Clinic for Children (Mount Alvernia).

Dr. Lim Xue Yan, Dr. Irene Teo and Dr. Christina Ong are also fully accredited paediatricians.

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