Dust storms are caused when strong, turbulent winds greater than 30km/hour, carry fine particles of dust from the surrounding area with the wind. Particles that can be can be picked up during dust storms include:
- microorganisms such as bacteria
- spores of fungi.
Dust storms are short-term events that often occur after periods of intense surface heating (for example, drought or fire) over cleared land or during a cold front.
How dust can affect your health
The lungs can be affected by the small particles which are included in the dust cloud. Particles smaller than 10 micrometres in diameter (PM10), about 1/7 the diameter of a human hair, can be inhaled deeply into the sensitive areas of the lungs. There, these small particles can cause irritation and inflammation.
Larger particles, those greater than PM10, only reach the nasal passage, the mouth, throat or the upper part of the lungs from where they can be expelled, but they can still cause irritation.
Research shows that during dust storms, visits to the emergency department for respiratory problems increase above the norm.
Who can be affected?
While all people may feel discomfort, people with pre-existing illnesses such as respiratory or heart-related problems may have their existing symptoms aggravated.
It is important to seek medical advice if your symptoms continue or if you are concerned in any way.
How to protect yourself
Ways you can protect yourself include:
- staying inside
- avoiding exercise, especially outdoors, to reduce the intake of particles into your lungs
- adhering to your medication schedule
- activating your asthma management plan.
Staying safe on the roads during a dust storm
Dust storms can reduce visibility. Extra caution should be taken when driving a vehicle. If visibility is very low, park in a safe place to avoid collisions.
If your car has air conditioning, reduce the incoming dust by switching the air intake to recirculate.