Health Precautions During Dust Storms

Health Precautions Advised During Dust Storms, Doha, 27 March 2011


It is necessary to take basic health and safety precautions during the dusty season in Qatar, an expert on respiratory care from Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) said.

Dust storms, which come with the onset of spring in Doha and decrease visibility for motorists, also pose health hazards such as sinus allergies and respiratory infections. Dust consists of tiny solid particles floating in the air, which can get past the lungs’ natural defenses and harm sensitive lung tissue. Fine particles of dust can irritate the lungs and trigger allergic reactions or asthma attacks.

Some  groups of people are considered at high risk of contracting respiratory infection, such as infants, children, teenagers, the elderly, those with a history of asthma, bronchitis, emphysema or other respiratory conditions, people with heart disease, pregnant women, and those who have to work outdoors, such as construction or delivery workers.

Extra care should be taken in the cases of people with chronic conditions, who are advised to see their doctors as soon as possible if an infection occurs. Breathing dust over a long period of time can also cause chronic breathing and lung problems.

Dr Khaled Al Said, senior consultant at HMC’s Accident and Emergency Department, advises people to follow the weather news so that they know what to expect when they step outdoors. If it is a dusty day, they should take the following simple precautions to protect themselves:

Avoid going outside during dust storms, especially during high winds or low visibility when the dust levels are particularly harmful. If unavoidable, spend as little time outside as possible, and avoid doing outdoor exercise. Keep your windows and doors closed.
Cover your nose and mouth with a mask or damp cloth to reduce inhalation of particles of dust when going out.
When driving, keep the car’s windows closed, and opt for air conditioning instead of fresh air.
Avoid rubbing your eyes in order to prevent eye infection, which is common during this season. Wear protective gear such as airtight goggles. If your eyes become irritated, rinse with water. Be especially careful if you wear contact lenses.
During hot weather, carry a supply of water to keep from being dehydrated.
In order to prevent vehicular accidents, motorists are advised to drive more slowly, and to pull over during low visibility (100 meters or less), particularly when driving in open areas.
People who are prone to bad allergies should start using their antihistamines during this season, even before the symptoms start.

“Patients who show symptoms of allergies, like watering of the eyes, cough, wheezing or asthma should go to their Primary Healthcare Centers (PHCs),” said Dr Al Said. “For those who have severe trouble breathing or start coughing green sputum, this means they might have a lung infection and should go to the Emergency Department. These symptoms are also common in asthmatic patients.”

Dr. Said explained that more than 80 percent of these cases are dealt with by the PHCs. “The precaution is the most important thing. Usually the dosage is increased for asthmatic patients, and they start taking the medicines even before the symptoms start during this season.”

Dr. Al Said  added that the Emergency Department saw a 20-30 percent increase in patients seeking treatment for asthma attacks during this season. Other cases include common seasonal ailments such as rhinitis, runny nose, and allergic conjunctivitis.

There has also been an increase in the number of injuries related to vehicular accidents due to dust storms. Dr Al Said cautioned drivers, particularly those living away from the city where there is no structure or building to break down the dust and reflect the sunlight. “People living in these places should avoid going out unless it is absolutely necessary, be very cautious when driving, and use the hazard lights when needed.”