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After Delhi, Massive Dust Storm Hits Mumbai: How Do They Impact Your Health?

What causes sudden and extreme dust storms? How can you protect against them? FIT answers your FAQs.

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Fit
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Just days after violent winds swirling with dust and debris tore through Delhi-NCR and other parts of North India, a massive dust storm hit Mumbai on 13 May, Monday.

The intense burst of wind reportedly led to 14 deaths, and at least 16 people were injured after a huge billboard collapsed during the storm.

What causes sudden and extreme dust storms? How do they impact your health? Can you prepare for them in advance?

FIT answers your FAQs.

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How does breathing in large amounts of dust and sand impact your health?

According to experts ingesting and breathing in large amounts of dust, sand, and other pollutants puts a strain on the lungs, and can also cause irritation in the nasal canal and eyes.

In regular, healthy people, it can cause transient irritation and allergic symptoms, however, Dr Bharat Gopal, Director & Head of Pulmonology and Critical Care at Delhi Heart and Lung Institute says, "Even a healthy person, when they are exposed to large amounts of dust, pollens and allergens, it can lead to symptoms such as running nose, sneezing, and itchy eyes along with breathlessness and wheezing."

Who is more vulnerable?

According to Dr Suranjeet Chatterjee, Internal Medicine Specialist at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, people who are prone to more severe reactions include:

  • Smokers

  • Patients of Bronchitis

  • Those with Asthma

  • Those with lung damage due to previous illnesses and infections

  • TB patients

"They can have more persistent or severe wheezing, coughing, breathlessness or an aggravation of their underlying illness," he adds.

Can irritants lead to infections?

"The dust itself won't cause infection, but we don't know what is there in the mix. Other infectious particles being carried in the wind could cause illness," says Dr Chatterjee.

Moreover, recent studies have shown that exposure to large amounts of dust and other fine or ultrafine particles can lead to inflammation in various organs.

Outwardly it can cause skin rashes and irritation, and eye irritation in some people. But also, internal inflammation in respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, hematological, and digestive systems.

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Are dust storms becoming more frequent? Why?

While dust storms are a natural part of the Earth's bio-chemical cycle, according to the UN, dust storms are becoming “increasingly frequent and severe” across the world.

"They have become a serious global concern in recent decades due to their significant impacts on the environment, health, agriculture, livelihoods, and socio-economic well-being."
United Nations Coalition on Combating Sand and Dust Storms

Recent UN studies also indicate that although it can occur naturally, the increase in frequency and intensity of dust storms in non-desert regions can be attributed in large parts to human activities, including agricultural practices, water usage, soil management, deforestation and urbanisation, as well as climate change.

According to the UN Coalition to Combat Sand and Dust Storms, two million tonnes of dust are emitted annually.

How can you protect yourself?

According to the experts FIT spoke to, these are some points to keep in mind during and even a few days after dust storms:

  • Stay indoors as much as possible.

  • Make sure your windows, vents and doors seal well.

  • If you must step out, use an effective mask.

  • Avoid exercising outdoors.

  • Use an air purifier at home if you can.

"Take your pre existing medicines properly and reach out to your doctor in case of symptoms," adds Dr Gopal.

What kind of mask

"Not all masks can help filter out dust and the really tiny particles," says Dr Chatterjee.

A well-fitted face masks designed to protect against pollution, including N95 and N99 masks (without valves) can help for short periods.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Climate Change   thunderstorm   Dust Storm 

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