What is Harmattan?

The harmattan season is a season that occurs between late November and mid-March and is characterized by dry, dusty, cool wind from the Sahara into the Gulf of Guinea. The harmattan winds pick up fine dust and sand particles, and there are fluctuations in the temperature. Sometimes the temperatures could be as low as 9oC (48oF) or as high as 30oC (86oF). Also, humidity level drops to as low as 5-15% (optimal humidity levels are between 30-50%).

Illnesses prevalent during the harmattan

  • Allergies: There is rise in allergies in atopic patients and worsening of allergic rhinitis (catarrh).
  • Respiratory conditions: Some people experience Upper respiratory tract infections (nasal congestions, runny nose, sore throats, body aches, headaches, mild fever), Asthma, Pneumonia, Bronchitis, Influenza.
  • Skin conditions: such as chapped lips, cracked soles and dry skin.
  • For the Eyes:some people can experience itching, redness, foreign body sensation, tearing of the eyes, Conjunctivitis (“Apollo”).
  • Spontaneous Nose bleeds due to the low humidity.
  • Sickle Cell Anemia: There is increased risk of crisis due to extremes of temperatures.

Others may include:

  • Food Borne diseases: due to settling of dust on hawked food or exposed food items.
  • Meningitis: aftermath of the season
  • Dehydration and heatstroke: Heatstroke is a condition caused by overheating of the body, usually as a result of prolonged exposure to or physical exertion in high temperatures. Heatstroke can occur if the body temperature rises to 104F (400C).

Tips on staying healthy during the harmattan

As the proverbial saying goes, prevention is better than cure.

  • For allergy, respiratory conditions, nose bleeds:  prevent exposures, when possible; use of humidifiers; build immunity with good supplements and proper nutrition; proper hydration; proper clothing and hygiene (wash your curtains, service your air-conditioners); use of nose masks; taking of warm fluids; prophylactic use of inhaler for asthmatics.
  • For skin conditions: use of good moisturizers; application of lip balms and heel balms; wearing of protective clothing.
  • For Eyes: reduce exposure; use protective spectacles; rinse eyes with water; hand washing hygiene.
  • Sickle cell anemia: wear protective warm clothing, proper hydration and avoid stress.
  • Food borne diseases: avoid buying exposed food, practice food hygiene, wash food products thoroughly before ingestion or cooking and wash hands properly before eating.
  • To prevent Meningitis: ensure vaccine is taken, avoid overcrowding, and ensure proper ventilation.
  • Dehydration and heatstroke: ensure adequate hydration.

A word on the Omicron Variant this harmattan

The Omicron variant of Covid-19 is the most recent variant discovered in November 24 (in South Africa) and December 1 (in United States of America). Since then, it has been detected in most parts of the world.  Patients with Covid-19 have reported a range of symptoms from mild to severe. They include: fever/chills, cough, difficulty in breathing/shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle/body aches, headache, new loss of taste/smell, sore throat, congestion/runny nose, nausea/vomiting and diarrhea. Both Covid-19 and the flu are spread by viruses and have similar symptoms but the former cause more serious illnesses in people. Therefore, we must remain Covid compliant in this season (use of face mask, maintain social distancing, frequent hand washing and covid vaccine uptake). When in doubt of the symptoms experienced, ensure you talk to a health professional on eDokita. We’re just a message away.

Written by Dr. Thelma Apata

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