Harmattan: Common Illnesses and Their Preventions By Dr Abass


Man as a product of the environment is affected by the later just as the environment is in turn influenced by man. The climate of all the environmental factors is the most important affecting health indirectly through its influence on plants, animals, insects, and microbes and directly by affecting the body physiological reserves

Harmattan, according to the American Heritage Dictionary of English language: 4th edition, 2000, may have originated from the Arabic word: HARAM which literally means -THE EVIL THING.

The origin may not be unconnected with the adverse effect of this weather especially in the Sahara. Harmattan can be defined as a dry and dusty wind blowing north-east and west of the Sahara into the Gulf of Guinea between November and March associated with low humidity. It is considered a natural hazard.

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Despite its adverse health effects, it also has health benefits; it is unfavorable for the breeding of mosquitoes thus reducing the incidence of Malaria.

Common illnesses associated with harmattan and their prevention

The skin, eyes and the respiratory tract which directly communicate with the environment are the most vulnerable to the adverse effects of weather especially harmattan.


Skin is usually dry with accompanying cracking of the lips, sole of the feet and skin itself. The body extremities i.e the hands and the feet are sometimes too cold to generate unpleasant symptoms. Small children and elderly are particularly prone to hypothermia (body temperature less than 35°C) due to the impaired regulating mechanism.

Dehydration is another problem associated with harmattan due because of dryness of the weather due to the increase in insensible fluid loss i.e fluid loss through the lung and skin. Skin can be kept healthy by topical application of oily creams and weather-friendly dressing.

This is the time to explore the cultural advantage of wearing ‘Agbada” and other thick native clothes.

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Dehydration can be tacked by liberal fluid intake of at least 3.2L (for adults) of fluid per day. Our children should be given water regularly whether they request for water or not.

If someone’s urine is scanty and concentrated (yellow to brown in colour, normal urine colour is AMBER), it means the person is not taking enough fluid. Normal urine volume in 24 hours is 1.5L (in adults).


Eyes are directly exposed to harsh weather especially dust particles carried by the wind.

The eye problems can present with;

  • Itching
  • Foreign body sensation
  • Redness i.e. Vernal (Allergic) Conjunctivitis
  • Viral Conjunctivitis
  • Bacterial Conjunctivitis etc


Proper eye hygiene in form of washing with clean water, reduce exposure to dust and wearing of protective spectacles.

Respiratory Tract

The conditions associated with the respiratory tract during harmattan include:

  • Rhinitis-infection of the nose
  • Rhino sinusitis -infection of the nose and sinuses
  • Allergic Rhinitis/Rhino sinusitis i.e rhinitis/rhino sinusitis associated with allergy.
  • Acute exercabation of asthma-patients with asthma should pay attention to their health to their health especially during harmattan.
  • Pneumonia-infection of lower respiratory tract i.e lungs

The aforementioned conditions are associated with the nasal discharge, nasal obstruction, nose bleeding, difficulty with breathing, cough, fever etc

For the aforementioned symptoms, consult your doctors immediately.

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In ‘Sicklers'(Sickle Cell Disease Patients)

Harmattan triggers crises in affected individuals.

Sicklers should be vigilant and always keep themselves warm to prevent crises.

Generally, because of the dusty atmosphere, there is a need to imbibe healthy food preservation culture especially food hawkers to prevent food-borne diseases e.g typhoid fever with its associated complications.

Fruits and vegetables should also be properly washed before eating. Our drinking water containers should also be covered properly.


There is no weather that would fully be accepted by a man no matter how favourable it may be. God in His wisdom alternates weathers to suit all His creatures and not only man.

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