MALAYSIAN THORACIC SOCIETY: Tips on Dealing with the Haze


Prepared by Professor Dr Roslina A Manap
Senior Consultant Respiratory Physician
UKM Medical Centre
(MTS President 2015-2017)

The haze we see in our city skyline is caused by tiny particulates suspended in the atmosphere. At high concentrations, these particulates scatter and absorb sunlight giving the skies a characteristic opalescent appearance and resulting in diminished visibility.

Several factors such as prolonged dry weather, a stable atmosphere, and pollutants from urban or rural sources are the ideal ingredients for the formation of haze. Particulates emitted into the atmosphere are trapped within the stagnant air mass causing the particulate concentration to increase thus producing a hazy condition.

These particles are called PM10 (this refers to 10 microns, the size of the particulate matters). Breathing an excess of these particles can increase a person’s risk of developing viral and bacterial infections, as well as heart and lung diseases. Even healthy people can suffer from irritation in the eyes, nose and throat, coughing and sneezing.

People with heart or respiratory diseases, as well as young children and elderly, should avoid going outdoors.  Even if you don’t have a pre-existing health condition, you should reduce your outdoor physical activity when the air quality is hazy and unhealthy.

Protecting yourself indoors
Close all your windows tightly to prevent haze and smoke from bushfires from entering your house. This may make the house quite stuffy with still air but this is better than having haze particles settle inside your home. An air ionizer or air purifier may help to catch very small particles.

Constantly check the news updates of air quality from the Department of Environment’s website.  When the level goes up to ‘moderate’ and ‘good’, it will be safe to open your windows.

Protecting yourself whilst driving
Whist driving keep the vehicle windows closed. Air-conditioning may be used. Set the vents to recycle the air rather than allowing air from outside into your vehicle.

Patients with chronic heart and lung disease
Patients who suffer from lung conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive airways disease and heart conditions such as congestive heart failure should avoid outdoor activities once the Air Pollution Index is in the unhealthy range (PSI level 101-200) and beyond. There is a fairly close relationship between admissions and deaths in patients with cardiopulmonary disease and the degree of air pollution. If going outdoors is deemed necessary, an N95 mask is advised. However, for some patients this increases the work of breathing and breathing may become more strenuous. They should discuss with their doctor if they have any concerns.

The elderly, pregnant women and children
The elderly, pregnant women and children should minimise prolonged and strenuous outdoor activity. Pregnant women in 2nd and 3rd trimester should only use the N95 masks for short periods of time.

Use of Masks
Masks such as the N95 masks are designed to keep out fine particulate matter such at that found in haze. Generally, surgical masks and 3-ply masks are much less efficient in filtering fine particles. N95 masks are not certified for use in children hence, children should stay indoors as much as possible.

Keep yourself hydrated
Drink more water than usual (at least 2litres a day) and cut down on coffee and alcohol which promote fluid loss from your body.

See your doctor immediately if you develop health problems
For those with lung problems, always be prepared with your medical treatments during the haze period.  Always carry your reliever inhaler device (usually blue in colour) with you wherever you go. For those who experience sudden health problems – especially to do with breathing, see your doctor immediately.
A runny nose is common because the body produces extra mucous to excrete the toxins and particles. If you are suffering nose blockages because of the haze, try using nasal sprays. Pharmacies sell various types of sprays which can cleanse your nasal airways.