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Haze Is Back In Malaysia: How To Protect Your Lung Health

Dr Kow Ken Siong highlights the impact of haze on respiratory health and shares preventive measures Malaysians can take to safeguard their wellbeing.

KLCC shrouded in haze and smog. Photo courtesy of Sunway Medical Centre.

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 3 – There is a blanket of grey colouring our skies and choking our lungs silently as Malaysia faces a resurgence of haze pollution, a cause for public health concern. 

Haze, characterised by poor air quality, consists of a mix of pollutants like dust, smoke particles, carbon monoxide, and toxic gases.

These tiny particles can penetrate the lungs and bloodstream, posing significant health risks to Malaysians.

Haze is a persistent issue in Malaysia, especially in areas like Selangor, Penang, and Sarawak. September 2023 API readings showed alarming levels of fine particulate matter, exacerbating health concerns.

Experts have also predicted that the haze will persist, and the dry and monsoon seasons will further increase the risk of forest fires and haze from June to October.

The Health Impact Of Haze 

Generally, most people understand that exposure to bad air is bad for your lungs. However, chronic exposure to poor air quality leads to respiratory diseases like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia, and lung cancer. 

Globally, air pollution, including haze, is linked to premature deaths, infections and various diseases — chronic respiratory illnesses are ranked the third-leading cause of death globally in 2019. 

Dr Kow Ken Siong, respiratory, internal medicine, and interventional pulmonology consultant at Sunway Medical Centre elaborates on how haze affects the respiratory system: “Fine particulate matter in the haze less than 2.5 micron in diameter, though often short-term, can leave a lasting impact, especially when inhaled.

“Short-term exposure can result in acute bronchitis symptoms like cough, phlegm, chest tightness, breathlessness, and lethargy.

“Vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly, and those with pre-existing conditions like asthma and cardiovascular diseases face higher risks where repeated exposure to haze over several years can worsen pre-existing chronic lung conditions, increase the risk of lung cancer, and lead to frequent bronchitis episodes. 

“Individuals without prior health issues may also develop upper respiratory symptoms and become more susceptible to viral infections,” he added. 

Shield Yourself The Best You Can

To help you safeguard your wellbeing during periods of poor air quality, Dr Kow shares some information on how to protect yourself and your loved ones from the adverse effects of haze pollution. His recommended tips include: 

  • Staying indoors as much as possible, especially in areas where the air pollution index is unhealthy. Also, keep doors and windows closed to prevent indoor air pollution. 
  • Incorporate high-quality air purifiers with HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters, which can help mitigate risks, as indoor air quality can be impacted by haze, especially when natural ventilation is limited. 
  • Use N95 masks for prolonged outdoor exposure, which may help filter out fine particulate matter that may be harmful. 
  • Stay hydrated throughout the day.
  • Stay informed and seek medical advice: Monitor air quality through official sources, limit outdoor activities during the haze, and seek professional medical advice if experiencing lung or heart symptoms. Self-medication, particularly with inhalers, is discouraged as it may lead to unwanted side effects.

The impact of haze pollution on respiratory health is a significant concern in Malaysia.

By understanding the health risks and adopting preventive measures, Malaysians can better protect themselves and their loved ones during periods of poor air quality.

Staying informed and seeking timely medical attention is essential to safeguarding lung health amidst recurring haze challenges.

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