During dust storms, particles of dust are carried long distances by strong and violent winds
Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) has advised Qatar residents to follow the necessary precautions to ensure they remain unaffected by dust storms as the summer months approach. Although, usually occurring during the onset of spring, dust storms may sometimes appear without a warning as the weather heats up.
During dust storms, particles of dust are carried long distances by strong and violent winds. The fine particles swirl around in the air and may enter the nose, mouth, and throat or even reach down the sensitive regions of the respiratory tract, causing adverse effects to the health of individuals.
Some groups of people are considered at high risk of contracting respiratory infection, such as infants, children, teenagers, the elderly, pregnant women, and those who have to work outdoors, such as construction or delivery workers. For those with pre-existing respiratory illnesses or other breathing-related problems such as asthma, emphysema, or bronchitis, dust storms can pose a serious health threat.
Suggesting useful ways in which the public can protect themselves from being severely affected by dust storms, HMC’s Emergency Department Chairman Prof. Peter Cameron said "people with asthma or other respiratory conditions may develop symptoms like shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing or chest pain during strong winds. It is advisable for such people to take prophylactics (pre-exposure medication) in advance so they may be able to prevent their conditions from getting worse".
Prolonged exposure to dust is likely to trigger allergic reactions and asthma attacks and may also lead to chronic breathing and lung problems, with the additional risk of heart disease, he noted.
“During such a time, it is highly recommended that people remain indoors, keep the windows and doors closed properly and turn on the air conditioner. They should avoid all kinds of outdoor activity, but if it is absolutely necessary to go outside, they should try to limit exposure to the dust by using protective covering over the nose and mouth," Cameron suggested, adding that "it is advisable to wear a wet cloth over the mouth as it will filter out the dust when breathing and in extreme cases wear airtight goggles to prevent dust particles from entering the eyes."
In addition, Prof. Cameron cautioned drivers to be extra careful when on the road during dust storms as decreased visibility increases the chances of collisions. "Driving conditions during dust storms are often hazardous, so it is recommended to stay off the roads as much as possible. If one cannot stay off the roads, it is recommended to proceed at a speed suitable for visibility, keep the lights turned on and to sound the horn if necessary," he said.
The effects of dust storms on one's health can be seen up to two weeks after the storms settle down. The most common problems associated with the dust storms are eye, mouth, throat, and lung irritation and they can heighten or cause different kinds of allergies. Residents who notice symptoms like watery eyes, cough or wheezing they are advised to go to the Primary Health Clinics for a checkup.