This article was first published at Jentrified Citizen
The haze is causing numerous problems to many people and I will like to share some of the ways I use to cope with it (plus throw in a few observations). If you have other ideas that work for you, please do share them as we are all still learning how to cope with the haze.
Tips and Advice: (note: this is not scientific but is based on my experience and observations)
1. When at home, close all your windows and doors when the PSI is high. This may sound basic but have you checked if they are closed tightly? Our home is not air-tight and many doors and windows do not close properly. A tiny crack will allow more haze to seep in as I found out when I first noticed that my windows couldn’t close properly and my doors had big gaps at the bottom. So I stuffed newspapers (or you can use cloth) to seal the gaps under the doors and folded pieces of paper to tighten the windows. If you must have a window open, cover it with a wet cloth to trap some of the dust.
2. Wear a surgical mask at home when the haze gets really bad and if you can’t stop the haze from going into the house. To many, this may seem troublesome. What? Still have to wear mask at home? But hey it is about your health and your kids’ health. You don’t have to wear it the entire day but at least part of the day to help ease your breathing. Wearing the soft mask is not as hard as N95 and it is easy to use.
3. Teach the kids and the elderly how to wear the different types of masks. When I saw my grandaunt wear her surgical mask, it was upside down! She didn’t know there was a wire to tighten around the nose bridge nor how to press it down to mould it on her face until I taught her. And she had never heard of nor seen an N95 mask. So please don’t assume most people know how to wear the different types of masks. Check and teach them if they are not wearing it correctly. And please explain to them why covering their noses with their hands is not enough to protect them (yep, my grandaunt said she did this).
4. The N95 mask comes in two different sizes apparently but I have only seen the bigger size in the pharmacies. In fact, the Ministry of Health has only just issued a statement today (23 June) saying there are no suitable “certified” N95 masks for children in Singapore and hence they should stay indoors as much as possible!
As for adults, some like myself, find it hard to wear the N95 as the elastic bands are very tight. I watched a YouTube video which showed that you have to first hold the mask against your face then stretch the elastic bands one by one over your head. But because of my smallish head size, the bottom elastic kept slipping down my neck which made the mask kinda loose!
Imagine the problems that the elderly would have with this mask. And what happens when people find it hard to wear? They may refuse to wear it or switch to wearing the lighter but much less effective surgical masks (which are also loose on the sides). Whilst N95 is indeed the best mask to use for protection against haze toxins, I still think it is good to have both types of masks for practical reasons. I wear the lighter ones for very short distances and when the PSI is not too high and I wear the N95 for the really bad days.
5. What if all you have with you is the lighter surgical mask when the haze turns bad? And what if the elderly insist they do not want to wear the N95? What I do is stuff a folded tissue into my mask to form more layers of make-shift filter (it also made my mask feel tighter). It did cut the acrid smell even if it doesn’t really filter out the toxins. Someone suggested using wet tissue which I will try next time with my mask. I have also resorted to cupping my hand over my mask to tighten the mask and to block the smell which helps to some extent. Very kiasu I know but it’s my life and my nose.
BTW, you may also want to watch what you eat during this period unless you enjoy smelling foul breath on top of the acrid smoke in your mask.
6. Do wear your mask when you go outdoors. I see so many people who are still not wearing masks even when the PSI is over 200! I have seen parents walking with little kids without masks in the streets. This is plain irresponsible. Choke yourself if you wish to but at least take care of the kids and elderly. And yes please wear it even if it’s for short distances. I do it as I can’t stand the smell and because short distances add up to lots of accumulated toxins over the weeks. You can’t see it but the toxic PM2.5 (fine particulate matters) can get into our bloodstream and deep into our lungs and cause health damage according to medical research (click here to read more).
7. I didn’t know there were so many varieties of masks out there until I started seeing people wearing them and until I searched online. Besides the flat surgical mask and N95, there is also the cup-like mask that fits nicely on the face, the different 3-D masks that look either like duck bills or white pyramids and which fit better around the cheeks. Then there are the cloth ones, decorated ones and even those with filters. And did you know surgical masks come in different layers? When I went to order my masks from a small shop, the sales person told me the mask they sell is 3-ply compared to the 2-ply ones I bought from a local pharmacy. And the masks come in two sizes – small for children and regular for adults.
The bad news is, the types of masks that are sold here at the pharmacies are mainly limited to the 2-ply surgical ones, the round cup ones and the N95 from what I have seen. Most of the other better masks have to be ordered online or bought from very few small retailers who import them directly from overseas.
As the haze is going to last for a long time (and is likely to return annually for the next few years) I really hope our local distributors and retailers will import more and better varieties for us. We can certainly use those masks with filters and perhaps some cheery masks to cheer us up during this time of gloom. I am not recommending that we wear the fun masks btw, just think it is nice to retain our humour during such times.
8. The haze causes very drying conditions. It is important to stay hydrated. I drink lots of water and I spray water on my face (when I remember). And yes, I use lip balm too cos my lips are cracking in this dry air. Some people use air purifiers at home (which I don’t have). For now, I use the fans and aircon to keep the air circulating.
9. If like me, you find you are having more nose blockages because of the haze, try using nasal sprays. Pharmacies sell various types of sprays which can cleanse our nasal airways and flush out toxins. I use one that is made of purified sea water and it seems to help unblock my nose and ease my breathing. It is not easy to use the first time you try it so please ask the pharmacist for advice on how to use them. Don’t forget to take care of your eyes too as our eyes are not covered (unless we wear full mask respirators). I have felt the sting of the haze a few times and my eyes feel drier than usual. I use eye drops daily to moisturise them and to cleanse them of the dust. Doing this a couple of times daily will help protect your eyes.
10. Lastly, get on with our lives. I was stressed out during the first week of the haze as it just kept getting worse. It doesn’t help that I stay on a high floor and can see the thick smog shrouding the entire horizon every day. It can be mentally depressing for many people. But once outdoors, the smog didn’t look as bad and I managed to get on with what I had to do. Life goes on, haze or no haze, so let’s keep our spirits up, do happy things and think of how best to adapt to this haze.