If you live in a desert environment, it’s likely you will experience a dust or sandstorm at some point. Though severe sandstorms are rare, milder sandstorms often accompany seasonal weather changes. Aside from sand, these storms carry with them dust, bacteria, fungi and viruses, all which can have an impact on your health.
The most vulnerable to the effects of sandstorms are often the elderly, children, allergy sufferers, particularly those with allergic rhinitis, people with respiratory conditions like asthma, and those with weakened immune systems.
Even if you don’t fall into any of the categories above, your health may still be affected during or following a sandstorm. Among the most common health complaints are:
- Runny nose
- Eye irritation
- Sleep disruption
Larger sand or dust particles typically get into your eyes, nose and throat causing inflammation and irritation, which explains why coughs, nasal congestion and redness around the eyes can occur. However, smaller particles can be carried deeper into your respiratory tract towards your lungs, leading to breathing problems or chest pain.
If you suffer from an allergy or respiratory disease, sandstorms can trigger a worsening of your regular symptoms. As an allergy sufferer you may experience a runny, stuffy or itchy nose, watery eyes and a sore throat. If you’re an asthmatic, you may notice you are coughing or wheezing more frequently or heavily than normal, feel tightness in your chest or be short of breath; the worsening symptoms could also lead to an asthma attack.
For most of us the symptoms caused by sandstorms are short-lived, but if you find symptoms persist or worsen you should seek medical attention. If you have a pre-existing medical condition, you should visit your doctor to develop a management or response plan for dealing with any health changes in the event of a sandstorm.
Health advice for sandstorms
There are several steps you can take in order to minimize your exposure to sandstorms, these include:
- If possible, remain indoors and keep all windows and doors firmly closed. If you do have to venture outside, stick to sheltered areas, avoid periods where the winds are at their strongest or visibility at its lowest, and keep time outdoors to a minimum.
- Stay up-to-date with the weather. Sandstorms can often be predicted, and if one is forecast you can plan your activities accordingly.
- Use a mask or damp cloth to keep your mouth and nose covered when outside.
- Carry water with you and remain hydrated.
- Allergy sufferers may want to take an antihistamine.
- Wear protective eyewear if you have sensitive eyes or are prone to eye irritations.