By Siddharth Mala
New Delhi: Meteorologists attribute the current dusty conditions in the Delhi-NCR region to a convergence of factors, namely the prolonged period of intense heat in northwest India spanning the last five days, arid soil resulting from the lack of rainfall, and the presence of strong winds.
In recent years, dust allergies have become a significant issue, impacting a sizable section of the world’s population. Exposure to a variety of dust-related particles, including dust mites, pollen, mould spores, and pet dander, causes this illness, also known as allergic rhinitis or hay fever.
The prevalence of dust allergies is on the rise, with environmental factors playing a significant role. Increased urbanisation, indoor air pollution, and climate change contribute to higher levels of dust particles in the environment. Additionally, modern lifestyles and improved insulation in buildings create an environment where dust mites and other allergens thrive.
ETHealthworld interacted with experts to learn more about dust storms’ impact on health and how they further lead to dust allergies. Experts touched upon a wide range of issues, from the reasons behind dust storms affecting health to vulnerable age groups and preventive measures to be taken to protect oneself.
Dust storms’ impact on health
When asked about dust storms affecting our health and which age group should be more cautious about it, Dr Anita Mathew, Infectious Specialist, Fortis Hospital, Mulund, said, “When you have a dust storm, you basically have particulate matter, which actually floats around in that particular dust area that you’re looking at. And these are obviously the extremes of ages for the majority of Indians, which are the ones where they get really affected. If you look at children and the elderly, both of these are going to be more susceptible to certain allergic symptoms like asthma. If somebody has tuberculosis, these are also people with compromised lungs as compared to the ones who don’t have it. So these are people who will be more prone to getting affected. And when I say getting affected, it basically means that they would have a whole lot of breathing issues.”
One could also have an acute worsening of asthma, in this scenario, Dr Mathew said, “Patients who are elderly and hypertensive may have a higher risk of stroke and heart disease. They are also more prone to allergies, and asthma is a form of allergy; similar to asthma, one could have allergies that are related to the skin, like dermatitis or itchy areas in the skin; these are the ones that could really kind of get exacerbated, plus details could get the eyes and cause an eye irritation, and that’s something like allergic conjunctivitis; these are the usual things that an individual could end up having.”
Current weather pattern harsh for patients with comorbidities
Speaking about weather affecting the health of people with comorbidities, Dr Narmata Jasani, Senior Consultant Pulmonology, Global Hospitals, Mumbai, stated, “People who are prone to allergies are at a high risk. Now it can be any age group; it can be a younger age group or an old age group; it actually depends on the tendency of the person; if they have an allergic tendency towards dust, then that’s going to be a problem sometimes. And especially, it can cause a lot of allergy problems, like allergic rhinitis or bronchial asthma. A patient may have difficulty breathing; the chest is very tight, and the patient sees that he cannot breathe. Those are some of the diseases that can be triggered by the dust storm.”
Dr Jasani expressed that one has to be particularly careful if diagnosed with asthma or a known allergy sufferer. Those aware of their condition of suffering from asthma and allergies have to be particularly cautious to prevent the dust storm. And, in such cases, there is a need to take prompt precautionary measures and necessarily avoid going into a dust storm.
Allergic rhinitis and bronchial asthma are considered one of the main triggers; congestive heart failure is mainly a condition of the heart that is not that much affected because of the dust storm. Experts suggest older age groups and those with other comorbidities living in places with a higher frequency of dust storms may face problems. “People with allergic rhinitis, bronchial asthma, reactive airway disease, or smokers who are more prone to reactive airway disease—all of those have to be careful of the dust storm,” voiced Dr Jasani.
Adding to it, Dr Aniket Mule, Consultant Internal Medicine, Wockhardt Hospitals, Mira Road, said, “Mainly infants, children, and elderly patients, or other people who are already having respiratory conditions like asthma, bronchitis, COPD patients, or people with heart conditions, are more prone to developing new onset of respiratory symptoms or the worsening of existing ailments.”
While talking about the precautionary steps to be taken during such weather patterns, experts suggested some effective ways to ensure safety from dust storms.
If there is a weather forecast expecting a dust storm, then stay indoors, avoid outside air, and wait as the whole storm usually comes down. After the storm, there are usually some showers that usually calm down the weather temporarily. So, all the particles that are flying out come down with a little bit of rain.
- Air filters or air purifiers at home
If you are within the household, it’s obvious that you’ll have higher particulate matter, so get some kind of air filter or purifier that might help to purify the air inside the house, and also put the AC on so that you don’t recycle the same air that you have in the house.If you are already outside and there is no way you can protect yourself by going indoors, then in such conditions, wear a mask that will prevent the dust particles from entering the lungs as much as possible—not completely but to some extent.
Dust storms can be quite severe and have various impacts not only on public health but also on the environment and infrastructure. The occurrence and strength of dust storms fluctuate annually due to factors like localised weather patterns, soil moisture levels, and overall climate conditions. To mitigate the detrimental impact on people and infrastructure, it is crucial for authorities to diligently monitor and effectively manage these events.