The harmattan season remains my favorite of the two seasons in Nigeria. Aside from the drought weather condition and the air that’s so dry it irritates your nostrils and skin, the season is synonymous with festivities.
ORIGIN OF THE WORD HARMATTAN SEASON
The word ‘’Harmattan’’, was coined in the late 17th century from the native Akan (Twi) ( ashanti tribe of Ghana) word haramata, which is possibly from Arabic ḥarām, evil thing, from ḥarama, to prohibit.
The Harmattan season’s weather originates from the dry and dusty trade wind which blows from the Sahara desert over West Africa. It usually comes between the end of November and the middle of March . Tourists visiting Nigeria for the first time must be wary of this harsh weather conditions.
It is common to have celebrations all around the harmattan season, partly because the weather is favourable and you don’t have to worry about the rain, wet and muddy grounds ruining the party.
Celebrations such as Christmas, weddings, traditional marriages, wedding anniversaries, church crusades, Festivals such as the Calabar carnival that is held in Cross River State between 1st December and 31st December every year, the Ofala Festival held in Anambra State in December, Abuja carnival holds every November, Akwa ibom cultural carnival, Akwa Ibom Chrismas Carol Festival. Just to mention a few.
The festivities and celebrations attract tourists and Nigerians in diaspora. For people who are not familiar with the coping mechanism adopted during this season, surviving in Nigeria during this period could be hellish. Here are some precautionary measures to observe if one must scale through this season without health challenges.
SMART HEALTH TIPS DURING HARMATTAN SEASON
Drink lots of water: Back then in secondary school, my biology teacher told us that the body is made up of about 60% of water. During the harmattan season you are constantly losing water from your body, primarily via urine, sweat and even respiration. To prevent dehydration and your mucus membranes from drying up, you need to drink adequate amounts of water.
There are many opinions on how much water you should be drinking every day.
On a normal day health experts commonly recommend about 2 liters, or half a gallon. This is called the 8×8 rule and is very easy to remember  However, some well-being gurus believe that you need to sip on water constantly throughout the day, even when you’re not thirsty especially during the dry harmattan season.
Keep your skin moisturized: During the harmattan period, it’s possible to have a dry skin which makes you look dull and old. It is absolutely essential to provide your skin with enough hydration so that it looks healthy. During this season it is not just the people with dry skin who need to do this.
Harmattan is no respecter of anybody not many knows that even people with normal, combination, and oily skin must also moisturize their skin. Use petroleum jelly or similar products to protect your skin from drying up.
Moisturizing your skin doesn’t only make your skin beautiful. Using a moisturizer every day can make your skin glow and provide deep hydration to the layers of your skin. During harmattan the sun’s UV rays, along with droughty weather can cause a lot of damage to the skin, making it very dry and scaly.
This dryness further leads to itching, dry patches, and many other skin problems. If you want your skin to stay free of these problems, you’ll need to moisturize it daily.
Care for your lips: The skin surrounding our lips is much thinner than the skin on the other parts of our body. The consequence of a thick layer of skin is, it easier for them to crack and makes it much more important for us to take extra care of. During harmattan, things like lip balm or the good old Vaseline should not be far away from your lips.
Furthermore, your lips have a lesser amount of oil glands and lack the ability to create the sun-filtering natural melanin. Your lips because of the nature of the surrounding tissues are always defenseless, which means that they have virtually no protection of their own. Cracked lips are most common in harmattan, when the cold, dry air dehydrates your skin
Consistent use of lip balm can offer a reliable remedy for cracked, dry lips. It’s common for balms to contain waxes and oils, some preparations also contain menthol or camphor to soothe rawness and stinging. While others may contain allantoin or aloe to improve healing .
Avoid Carbonated Drinks: fizzy and carbonated drink may drain your body fluid worse than a loose stool. The complex sugar needs to be broken-down with a great amount of energy; therefore it takes a lot of our body fluid to achieve this. ‘’We need to drink 8 to 12 glass of water in order to replace the loss of our body fluid from each glass of carbonated drink’’. 
Excessive consumption of carbonated drinks can lead to a serious health problem. Water depleting effect of carbonated drinks can further depreciate to chronic dehydration. Coupled with the droughty harmattan weather, it can be hazardous to health.
Reduce alcohol intake: the cold harmattan season always goes with a lot of festivities and celebration. Parties, drinking out and hanging out with friends are common during this period. While you’re out drinking and enjoying time with family and friends this harmattan, keep it at the back of your mind that alcohol can make your body more susceptible in extremely low temperatures such as cold evenings or early mornings of harmattan season .
Especially during the Christmas and New Year’s Eve, places like Calabar during the much celebrated Calabar carnival is already one of the busiest times for alcohol consumption in Nigeria. Alcohol consumption usually presents a false sense of warmth that occurs when drinking in cold conditions.
This could cause you to underestimate the strain that cold weather places on your body. Cold harmattan weather coupled with cold weather exposure can further exacerbate hypothermia and cold related medical conditions.
Keep your hair moisturized: if hair breakage is a concern to you, then keeping your hair covered to lock in moisture during harmattan period should be important to you. Conditioning your hair deeply, at least weekly will keep your hair moist and strengthens the hair.
The harmattan weather can also make your hair look dry and dull, moisturize daily to add shine and reduce dryness. Tuck your hair away and protect it from the harsh weather .
Adjust your clothing appropriately: if you’re going to be outside throughout the day, the common practice is to dress with warm clothing with a light inner wear that can be exposed during the day when the temperature gets extremely hot. During harmattan, it’s possible for swift changes in temperature to occur.
Especially during the evenings, temperature drop is normal. During this time, if you’re still outside you can switch back to warm clothing. Most people wear a thick jacket with a light inner wear which can be easily adjusted.
Wear protective spectacles: due to dust hazy winds, protective spectacles are a compulsory piece to your fashion. These protect your eyes from dust particles and dirt. Especially, if you’re going to board a motorcycle.
Tornadoes or sand storm are common features in harmattan – angry spinning hot air sending debris flying in all directions. If this meets you in the middle of the road, Stop immediately and locate a safe area away from the wind or cover your face and mouth.
Wear a nose Mask: the air during harmattan is usually dusty and sandy. Cover your nose and mouth with a mask or towel when it is dusty. Try as much as possible to reduce your outdoor activities. If you’re an allergic person, try as much as possible to complete your activities indoor. Going outside might expose you to allergens .
Inhaling different types of dust particles have different health effects. For example, inhaling crystalline silica dust causes scarring of the lungs, and inhaled lead dust can damage the central nervous system .
Always go with your inhaler: if you’re an Asthmatic patient or you have any chronic respiratory condition, the harmattan season is a period you should pay special attention to your health and take all possible and practicable measures to reduce exposure to the dusty atmosphere. A possibility of an asthmatic attack is high and should not be overruled.
Asthmatic attack during harmattan is pretty common; the predisposing factors are numerous during this period. Triggers could come in the form of dust, pollen or hay fever which causes irritation and inflammation of the airways that’ll trigger an allergic reaction.
For people living with SCD, according to Philip Eappen, Chief Administrator, AUN Clinic ‘’This dry cold dusty season triggers sickle cell disease (SCD) as well. Patients should drink plenty of water and avoid outdoor activities as much as possible.’’