Harmattan season is characterized by a “cold, dry, and dusty trade wind which blows over the West African sub continent.”
All things being equal, the harmattan season starts in Mid-November and ends in Late-March, however due to climate change, it might not be the same in all places. The northern part of the country is worst hit with the extreme dryness, dust and cold weather. It is fully characterized by chilly mornings and hot afternoons.
It is a season we all love and hate at the same time. We love its low temperature at night, unfavourable conditions for breeding of mosquitoes thus reducing the incidence of malaria. Also to preserve our foods from getting bad and also help dry up our clothes on time. We hate its unfavourable health challenges it brings with it.
Some of the common ailments during harmattan are:
- Diarrhoea: due to contaminated food
- Dehydration and dryness: of the skin and the eyes e.g. Conjunctivitis
- Respiratory tract issues – sore throat, cough, cold
The skin is usually dry with accompanying cracking of the lips, sole of the feet and even the skin itself. The body extremities such as the hands and feet are sometimes too cold to generate unpleasant symptoms. The respiratory system especially the lungs are heavily affected. This is because of its direct communication with the atmosphere due to the numerous air pollutants, dusty air and they could get inhaled.
Nevertheless, the respiratory tract has a defensive mechanism that stops harmful particles in the air from getting to the lungs. This defence may however be overwhelmed by the concentration of the pollutants in the atmosphere. It also depending on the health status of a person or owing to small sized particles that escape entrapment. The resultant effect is damage to the system predisposing to infection. Excessive sneezing, cough and catarrh, sore throat, bronchitis are some of the symptoms common to most people.
Family Health physician, Dr.Femi Omolola, says it is the time to keep warm and hydrated before going to bed to avoid being exposed to weather-related health problems. He warns that asthmatic patients and people living with sickle cell anaemia need to prepare to face such health challenges that may likely affect their joints and restrict their movement. These patients suffer the most as attacks and crises are usually very frequent. Due to this, we would give tips on how we can all protect ourselves.
A Public Health expert, Taiwo Oguntoyin, recommended that there should be a lot of intake of fruits and vegetables containing much Vitamin C to prevent infections. The expert said that adequate intake of Vitamin C would also aid recovery for people who already had ailments. Also, we must have access to potable water. We are all bound to be very thirsty so our water intake should increase rapidly. If we’re unsure about the water source, we could boil it then leave it to cool before drinking. Fizzy drinks should try as much as possible to be avoided instead drink water.
If you have to go out or embark on a journey, you must dress in warm and light clothes. Also, look after your extremities and exposed areas. Hats, scarves, gloves, mufflers, pashminas, and appropriate footwear are compulsory. Don’t be in a hurry to leave the house. Dress like you are going to get home very late. Ensure the clothes would keep you warm enough.
Hair and Skin Care
The harmattan is particularly harsh on our skin if we don’t protect it. It makes us to look dull, tired and even older. Unless our skin is properly hydrated, it can’t repair itself properly, meaning that every little irritation could become a bigger problem. Heavy wind during cold weather can remove the UV filtering lipids from our skin and accelerate sunburn.
This is why it is essential that we make up for the loss of these lipids with creams that block the suns UV rays. Of course, if you don’t protect your skin from the cold, you run the risk of developing skin conditions in later in life. There could be more serious consequences that arise from not protecting your skin, such as cancer of the skin. Keeping a lip balm in your pocket, car and handbag for constant applications will keep chapped, dry lips at bay. For your skin, shea butter and cocoa butter is the best.
For your hair, coconut oil and shea butter are good. Ensure you have protective styles on like crochet braids(they come in different shapes, lengths, colours, texture etc) and weaves. Try not to leave your hair bare. It causes serious hair breakage due to the fact that the hair would always be dry. Hair oils, conditioners and moisturisers come in very handy at this point
The Harmattan period would come and go, however every family has to be ready to protect one’s self against the harshness of the seaaon. Remember, Prevention is better than Cure!