Harmattan and your health

We all know what Harmattan is. That dry, windy, weather that comes with cold and lots of dust. Right? Well Harmattan is upon us once again and I was asked to write an article for the Health and Wellness column in my church magazine which I write for/on on a weekly basis. I really love Harmattan; I do mainly for the cold it brings as heat/sun and Professor Ike don’t mix at all. I have done everything I can to protect myself from harmattan including adding enough olive oil to my body lotion for that extra grease for bright looking skin. Getting ill wasn’t part of the plan but I have been so stressed of late so it has left me kind of defenseless and now I am battling really “chronic” runny nose  and the resulting headache from constant sneezing and blowing! Grrrrr.

So I decided to do a little write-up with some Health and a little Safety tips! When the weather is cold, mosquitoes tend to go into hiding! When your (AC) is on, you feel no mosquito and see no mosquito.  Turn the AC and fan off and be ready for war with them. Same thing with Harmattan – because of its low temperature it is difficult for mosquitoes to breed thus reducing the incidence of malaria. So feel free to welcome Harmattan but not without some health effects.

Health hazard!
The skin, the eyes and the respiratory tract are constantly in direct contact with the atmosphere and are therefore the most vulnerable to the adverse effects of Harmattan. From sneezing to runny nose, sometimes you develop a fever and headache. I have noticed that when I take a hot bath in the morning, I feel warm for longer than when I don’t. I try to have a hot breakfast in the morning – sometime I really can’t so I just settle for a hot drink especially green tea or ginger tea. Then again, boiling ginger and throwing some lemon and natural honey in helps keeps the cold / runny nose away! I owe that to a friend who gave me that remedy when one summer I couldn’t recover from hayfever and a cold. Infact my sister just discovered it’s also a good remedy for weight loss 😉 (a little diversion there).

Let me talk about the skin, eyes and respiratory tract.
During Harmattan, The skin usually gets really dry, and the lips and heels of your feet gets cracked. The body after a while is unable to keep warm which results in the risk of hypothermia (a drop in body temperature below 35°C) – babies, children and the elderly are at a higher risk due to their inability to keep warm adequately. They need to be helped and supported to use the right clothing for the weather. To help with the cracked skin, oily creams like vaseline can be applied. Water is also very good for the skin so try to drink lots of water. Nothing wrong with going beyond the recommended 2litres a day.

The eyes are directly exposed to the harsh weather and dust/particles carried by the wind so foreign objects can easily find their way into your eye which can result in itching and redness. When this happens, rinse immediately with clean water and reduce exposure to dust by wearing protective spectacles or even sunshades afterall some people wear them at night 😉

The respiratory tract can also be badly affected during harmattan. Although it has a defensive mechanism that stops harmful particles from getting into the lungs, this defence can easily be “broken down” by a high concentration of foreign substances depending on your health status, for example someone with pre-existing chest infection or someone who is asthmatic. If you have asthma, don’t fail to have your inhaler on you at all times this Harmattan season. You know your repiratory tract has been compromised when you start sneezing, coughing and suddenly have a catarrh/runny nose. People with sickle cell disease can also be affected so if you are asthmatic, have sickle cell disease or pre-exisiting chest infection, always have your inhaler on you (for asthmatic people only) and do what you can to protect yourself – wearing a mask while outdoors might not be fashionable but it will help!

It is also a Fire hazard! As we use various means to keep ourselves warm, we must do this with caution to prevent fire accidents. The dryness of the weather and the wind can worsen any fire situation so be careful not to start any fires especially on sanitation days.