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Prolonged haze expected, as doctors report more cases of respiratory problems

SINGAPORE — As the authorities warn of the possibility that air quality in Singapore could be in the unhealthy range for the third consecutive day on Thursday (Sept 19), doctors interviewed by TODAY said that they are seeing more patients with respiratory ailments.

A file picture of a patient consulting a general practitioner during the haze period in Singapore. Doctors advise people who are most vulnerable to respiratory problems, such as seniors and young children, to take precautions.

A file picture of a patient consulting a general practitioner during the haze period in Singapore. Doctors advise people who are most vulnerable to respiratory problems, such as seniors and young children, to take precautions.

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SINGAPORE — As the authorities warn of the possibility that air quality in Singapore could be in the unhealthy range for the third consecutive day on Thursday (Sept 19), doctors interviewed by TODAY said that they are seeing more patients with respiratory ailments.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said on Wednesday that the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) is “forecast to be in the high end of the ‘moderate’ range and the low end of the ‘unhealthy’ range” on Thursday.

Depending on wind conditions, the agency also said that the PSI may enter the “mid-section of the ‘unhealthy’ range if denser haze from Sumatra is blown in”.

As of 11pm on Wednesday, the PSI reading was 145 in the southern region, 137 in the east, 127 in the west, 124 in the central region and 122 in the north. 

The one-hour PM2.5 concentration readings — of particulate matter that is less than or equal to 2.5 micrometres in diameter — ranged from 102 to 150 µg/m3 at 11pm, in Band II (Elevated). 

The impact of the worsening haze is already being seen at private clinics.

One doctor, who wanted to be known only as Dr Lee, said that on Wednesday morning alone, he saw twice the number of respiratory cases that he usually sees at his clinic, Medi Healthcare Clinic Punggol.

Three other doctors reported about a 10 to 20 per cent increase in patients with respiratory problems.

SYMPTOMS MAY GET WORSE

The doctors who spoke to TODAY anticipate seeing more serious symptoms of respiratory ailments. 

Dr Pauline Neow, who practises at Mei Ling Clinic, said that she has already encountered two patients with minor cases of asthma. One patient had not had asthma in 20 years, while the other patient, who Dr Neow said is in his 60s, experienced breathlessness although he has never been diagnosed with asthma before. 

Dr Lee warned that patients with chronic lung problems and asthma should be more vigilant and take pre-emptive measures to ensure that their ailments do not become aggravated by the haze.

“It is best for (these patients) to see the doctor to review their treatment and medication even if they have not experienced any problems,” he said, adding that “asthma attacks are not a joke”. “People can die of asthma.”  

Dr John O’Shea, co-founder of pharmaceutical sales and marketing firm Good Pharma Dermatology, said that the haze could either increase the risk of patients developing eczema or trigger bad flare-ups in patients who already suffer from it. 

Dr O’Shea added that the firm has seen an increase of 31 per cent in sales of its eczema cream Suu Balm from the first week of this month to the second.

PROLONGED HAZE WILL AFFECT YOUNG AND OLD

Dr Vincent Chua, a general practitioner at Chua and Partners Family Clinic in Tiong Bahru, said that elderly people and very young children are more prone to respiratory ailments during an extended period of haze.

“This is because they are not used to this level of pollution and their bodies cannot deal with it as well. For young children, more phlegm in their airways can cause them to have difficulty breathing,” he said.

Agreeing, Dr Alvina Nam, a general practitioner at Clinic@Costa, said that concerns over the health risks posed by the haze should be focused on those who are most vulnerable.

“Most of the time, if the person is relatively healthy, they can go about their daily business. It is the young children, elderly, and (those with) pre-existing illnesses who are more vulnerable.”

To minimise the ill effects from haze exposure, the NEA said that people — especially children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with chronic lung or heart diseases — should avoid prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion.

Dr Nam also cautioned that people with symptoms that have lasted for a few days and are experiencing breathlessness or chest discomfort to seek medical attention promptly.

NEA said on Wednesday that the weather over Sumatra in Indonesia is “forecast to remain dry” for the next few days and the haze situation there is “expected to persist”.

“The prevailing winds are forecast to blow from the south-east or south, and Singapore may continue to experience hazy conditions,” it said.

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