“WHERE ARE ALL the patients?” I asked the receptionist. “I don’t know sir,” she answered. I looked at the clock on the wall. 8.30am! And the seats were empty. I paced to the door to have a look at the main street. It was windy, slightly foggy and a lot of dust in the air. There wasn’t any noticeable decrease in the number of cars but there were fewer motorbikes carrying passengers and fewer pedestrians on the road. Many of those on the bikes and those walking wore thick clothes and covered their heads – both male and female.

Just at that moment, a middle aged man walked into the reception. He was shivering and had his hands in his pocket to keep them warm. As he sat down, I noticed his face was white as if he had rubbed some powder on it. His lips were dry and rough, his legs covered in dust and the skin on the back of his heels cracked. “Why is this place so dusty,” he exclaimed pointing at the seat next to him. If I had not seen the cleaner when she was dusting the seats and other items of furniture a few minutes before then, I would have blamed her for not doing her work. I explained to him that it was the effect of the harmattan – the same reason why his face was covered with dust and he was shivering. We were having an extremely cold harmattan. That explained why patients were coming late for their appointments.

Harmattan period is cold and coming after the oppressive November heat, is so soothing that people generally slept better and got up late. No wonder the Yoruba rhyme we were taught at school, “Imototo bori arun mole bi oye se n’bori ooru” Translated it means, “Cleanliness conquers diseases just as harmattan conquers the oppressive heat.”

Because of the recent changes in climate worldwide, the harmattan nowadays cannot be compared with what we used to have years ago. Now you can just feel the harmattan cold on your skin. However, its two more nasty features have remained – the dust haze leading to fogginess especially in the early hours of the morning and towards evening and the dust. The dust haze has led to the cancellations and diversion of flights at some airports as well as many fatal accidents on our roads. During this period visibility can be very bad. Road traffic accidents often occur when fast moving vehicles run into unseen stationary vehicles. The way to avoid this is to drive within the limits of your visibility. It is imperative that you put on your glasses if you are supposed to use them for distance. Never drive with dark glasses! The windscreen of your car must also be very clean as oily surfaces cause a lot of distortion and considerable reduction in visibility.

During the harmattan period, as much as possible, contact lenses should be avoided because of the dryness and dust. If they have to be worn they should be cleaned more often or better still, daily use disposable contact lenses are recommended. For the same reason, people who experience the dry eyes should blink more frequently and instil their ocular lubricants more frequently. 

It is not unusual to have mild discharges (mote or “ipin” in Yoruba). In the presence of a white eye the presence of occasional mild discharge or mote can be safely ignored but if it becomes more frequent or more copious there is need for treatment with appropriate antibiotics. If there is gritty sensation or a feeling of “sand particles in the eyes” - a most uncomfortable feeling there may be need to do something more. You can’t appreciate the symptoms if you have never experienced it. I have and I know what it is like – a nagging discomfort that won’t just go away. Often there is a mild discharge in the morning and despite antibiotic treatment it persists. If the upper eye lid is turned inside, it is not unusual to find sand particles embedded in the conjunctiva covering the inner surface of the upper lid. These may have to be scrapped out.

All said and done, harmattan season is one season I used to enjoy. The air conditioner can have a well-deserved rest and because it is cold, however the harmattan haze and its dust could cause severe eye infections and blindness if not properly handled. We can all stay alive to enjoy another harmattan if we drive with caution during the period.  

Our Social Media