As dust storms lash the country and the dip in temperatures continues, a respiratory care expert from Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) advises residents to take basic health and safety precautions.
Dust storms come with the transition from winter to summer in Qatar, and 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, and prolonged exposure to airborne dust can cause chronic breathing and lung problems, as well as heart disease.
Dr Khaled Al Said, senior consultant at HMC’s Accident and Emergency Department, advises taking the following precautions during dust storms:
1) Avoid going outside, 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
2) Cover your nose and mouth with a mask or damp cloth to reduce inhalation of particles of dust when going out
3) When driving, keep the car’s windows closed, and opt for air conditioning instead of fresh air
4) 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
5) During hot weather, always carry a supply of water to keep from being dehydrated
6) People who are prone to bad allergies should start using their antihistamines during this season, even before the symptoms start
People at high risk of contracting respiratory infection include infants and young children, the elderly, people with a history of asthma, bronchitis, emphysema or other respiratory conditions, people with heart disease, pregnant women, and people who have to work outdoors, such as construction or delivery workers. Those with chronic conditions should take extra care and should see their doctors as soon as possible if an infection occurs
“If they show symptoms of allergies such as watering of the eyes, cough, wheezing or asthma, they should go to their Primary Healthcare Centres (PHCs),” said Dr Al Said. “Those who have severe trouble breathing, or start coughing green sputum, might have a lung infection and should go to the Emergency Department.” He pointed out that these symptoms are also common in asthmatic patients, whose dosage is usually increased and who start taking their medication even before the symptoms start during this season.
Dust storms also decrease visibility for motorists and lead to an increase in the number of injuries related to vehicular accidents. To help prevent accidents, motorists are cautioned to drive more slowly during dust storms and to pull over when there is low visibility (100 meters or less) particularly when driving in open areas.
People living away from the city, where there is no structure or building to break down the dust and reflect the sunlight, should be especially careful and avoid going out unless it is absolutely necessary. When driving, they should be very cautious and should use the hazard lights when needed.
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