Do not make your young child wear an N95 mask, says Dr Natalie Epton, specialist paediatrician and neonatologist at SBCC Baby & Child Clinic (Mount Elizabeth Novena).
There is currently no N95 mask that is approved for use in young children, she says.
Those that are available may make breathing more laboured, potentially worsening breathing in children already affected.
As a general rule, the N95 mask is appropriate for teens, but it also depends on the size of the child, and his or her face. Surgical masks are, of course, useless, Dr Epton adds.
This view is echoed by the Ministry of Education (MOE), noting that there is currently no international certification standards for the use of masks on children.
(Also read: How to protect your kids from the haze)
What MOE is doing to protect kids
MOE says that N95 masks would not be required for short-term exposure, like commuting from home to school, or when students are in an indoor environment, such as classrooms.
“The key precaution for children to take during haze is to minimise prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion when the forecast air quality is in the unhealthy range, and to avoid outdoor activity when the forecast air quality is in the very unhealthy range,” says the MOE spokesman.
All classrooms of primary and secondary schools, MOE kindergartens, and special education schools are equipped with air purifiers to ensure students’ well-being when the haze worsens in Singapore.
(Also read:What to look for in an air purifier)
When the air quality hits the very unhealthy range, or when required, schools will close the doors and windows of classrooms and turn on the air purifiers, said the spokesman.
“Therefore, masks are not necessary, even for examinations which are all conducted in enclosed indoor spaces with air purifiers,” she adds.
A 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading of 101 to 200 is in the unhealthy range, while a reading of 201 to 300 is in the very unhealthy band.
Schools have in place a set of haze management plans and are ready to implement the appropriate measures as required.
On Monday (Sept 16), a parent said her daughter and other pupils at a local primary school were told that they were not allowed to wear face masks at school.
In an updated post later that day, the parent said the school assured her that pupils were allowed to wear masks and the school was investigating why multiple pupils were told they could not.
The school’s principal told ST that the school has always allowed face masks when there is haze or when pupils feel unwell.
The principal clarified that at no point did any of the teachers inform pupils that they were not allowed to wear face masks in schools.
“We will also share this information with all our (pupils’) parents to reassure them,” he said.
What parents say
Parents had differing views about their children wearing masks in school.
On the post by the parent who highlighted the mask issue, Facebook user Cherie Tan asked if parents are being overprotective of their children and pointed out that PSI levels were not in the very unhealthy range.
Ms Tan said that students who wore masks and took part in outdoor activities in the hot weather could develop rashes and skin conditions.
She said that her daughter wore a mask if it was necessary outside school hours.
Ms Vinitha Thiro Selvan, 34, said that she rushed to buy a purifier for her one-year-old baby when haze conditions worsened.
While she is concerned about the impact of the haze on her child, she does not think masks are necessary for children in school for now. But if the masks are comfortable for them to wear, there was no harm in doing so, she said.
As for parents like senior network engineer Ajith Raveendran, he would want his boy in pre-school to wear a mask in class but would not take more drastic steps for now.
The 35-year-old father of two boys, aged five and one, said that his sons were sensitive to airborne allergens, adding: “We worry because the haze can trigger cough and health issues, but instead of taking any drastic measures, we choose to follow the guidelines set by the authorities.”
Safety measures to take at home
Minimise exposure to air pollutants by staying indoors when the PSI is high; close windows and doors, and use the air-conditioner.
Air purifiers with a HEPA filter are helpful in removing impurities from the air, and may be valuable for the bedroom when your child is sleeping, Dr Epton adds.
Protect your children by giving them food rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, which help their immune system remain strong and healthy.
Antioxidants are found in blueberries; vitamin C in oranges, grapes and kiwis; vitamin E in nuts and seeds, and omega oils in oily fish such as salmon.
Remember to get them to drink plenty of fluids, too.
If you have a newborn, watch out for signs of haze exposure, which include itchy, watery or red eyes, a runny or blocked nose, a dry cough or breathing difficulties, says Associate Professor Victor Samuel Rajadurai, adjunct professor, Department of Neonatology, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH). Read more about how haze affects babies’ health here.
Watch this video, too:
A version of this article first appeared in Young Parents; additional reporting and video by The Straits Times.