KUALA LUMPUR: The resurgence of haze pollution in Malaysia is a cause for public health concern and Malaysians should understand the health risks associated with it and take effective preventive measures, says a health expert.
Consultant Respiratory and Internal Medicine Physician at Sunway Medical Centre, Dr Kow Ken Siong, said chronic exposure to poor air quality may lead to respiratory diseases like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia, and lung cancer.
He said air pollution, including haze, had been linked to premature deaths, infections as well as various diseases and chronic respiratory illnesses, which were the third leading cause of deaths globally in 2019.
“In Malaysia, these conditions contribute significantly to hospitalisations and deaths, accounting for nearly 20% of public hospitals and over 12% of private hospitals in 2020,” he said in a statement on Saturday (Sept 9).
He said as haze was a persistent issue in Malaysia, it was important for Malaysians to understand how it affected respiratory health and take preventive measures to safeguard their well-being.
Dr Kow said fine particulate matters in haze, which were less than 2.5 microns in diameter, could leave a lasting impact, especially when inhaled, and short-term exposure could result in acute bronchitis symptoms-like cough, phlegm, chest tightness, breathlessness and lethargy.
“Vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions like asthma and cardiovascular diseases face higher risks where repeated exposure to haze over several years can worsen pre-existing chronic lung conditions, increase the risk of lung cancer, and lead to frequent bronchitis episodes.
“Individuals without prior health issues may also develop upper respiratory symptoms and become more susceptible to viral infections,” he said.
As such, he said during periods of poor air quality, Malaysians should take preventive steps like staying indoors as much as possible, incorporating the usage of high-quality air purifiers with High-Efficiency Particulate Air (Hepa) filters, and staying hydrated throughout the day to mitigate haze-associated risks.
He also recommends the usage of N95 face masks for prolonged outdoor exposure, which may help filter out harmful fine particulate matter, and encourages Malaysians to monitor air quality through official sources, limit outdoor activities, and seek professional medical advice if they experience any lung or heart symptoms.
“Staying informed and seeking timely medical attention is essential to safeguarding lung health amidst recurring haze challenges,” he said. – BK