Survival Instincts for the Harmattan

Once again, it’s that time of the year. It is the Harmattan period. The signs are everywhere:  dry skin (due to loss of moisture), cracked lips and feet. Some cracks even become ulcerated.

This period has been described by climatologists as a hot, dry and dusty wind that blows over West Africa. The northeasterly wind blows from the Sahara Desert into the Gulf of Guinea between the end of November and the middle of March.

Usually in Nigeria, the harmattan period usually starts early in December and goes on till the middle of January. This year’s Harmattan was quite different from the others as it surfaced gradually in various cities before eventually visiting Lagos.

It is usually characterized by a cold, dry, dusty wind in the evenings until the early hours of the morning. When the harmattan blows hard the heavy amount of dust in the air can severely limit visibility and even block out the sun, comparable to a heavy fog.

It’s Effect On Your Health

It is a natural hazard that affects all exposed surfaces of humans like skin, the eyes, nose, mouth and the respiratory tract which directly communicate with the atmosphere.
During this period, the eyes are exposed to the dust particles carried by the dry, cold and dusty wind leading to itching, redness, and foreign body sensation. Allergic eye diseases are also common.
This dust particles may overwhelm the system and predispose it to infection. Sneezing, cough, catarrh and even nasal bleeding could be experienced.
Due to the dust that settles on foods that are not properly stored or washed before consumption, there is also an increase in the incidence of cases of diarrhea disease and other food borne diseases.
The cold dusty weather tends to aggravate the condition of people with existing respiratory conditions like asthma.
The dry, cold and dusty harmattan wind could also trigger sickle cell crisis.

Survival Instincts

  • Regular water intake. More water should be consumed during this period considering the rate of dehydration. Also avoid caffeinated drinks and other practices which could cause dehydration.
  • The skin can be kept healthy by application of oily creams and weather friendly clothing. Protective jackets such as trousers, socks and other jackets should be worn when necessary.
  • Use appropriate skin cream. Apply them on areas that are prone to dryness like the lips, hair, face, the heels of the foot, etc.
  • Rinse your eyes with clean water. If you can, wear protective spectacles. Reduce exposure to the dust as much as possible.
  • Special precautions should be taken by individuals with pre-existing chronic chest infection like asthma to reduce exposure to the dusty atmosphere. Inhalers should be carried at all times.
  • Consumption of more fruits and vegetables to help boost immunity. Also, these fruits and vegetables should be properly washed before eating.
  • Strenuous activities that lead to high oxygen demand should be reduced.
  • Be careful with fire. Avoid burning indiscriminately and if you have to burn anything, make sure it is attended to and well monitored. Most fire accidents happen in this season because everywhere is dry and the fire can travel easily without restrictions.

The season we all wished for is here but it can damage our health in many ways: it affects our skin, eyes and respiratory tract. It cracks our lips and damages our skin. The eyes are also vulnerable to dust. A lot of other unpleasant diseases are easily triggered by this weather as well. I hope these tips helps in surviving this period.


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