Dust and Dust Storms
Dust is a common air pollutant both inside and outside. Dust can be made up of many types of small particles such as:
- tiny bits of soil, sand or rock
- tiny organisms like mould
- plant material
- dead skin flakes (main part of indoor dust)
- dander (dead skin flakes shed by animals).
Dust particles vary in size. Some are big enough that you can see them. These might get trapped in your nose and mouth when you breathe them in. Or you might breathe them into your lungs or swallow them without knowing.
Very small dust particles can be invisible and are more likely to get trapped deep in your lungs. These very small pieces of dust can irritate your lungs and trigger breathing problems like coughing or sneezing.
Dust can also trigger asthma as an allergic reaction. Whether you have this type of response or not depends on:
- what is in the dust and
- what you are allergic to.
Dust is measured under ‘particulate matter’ on air quality ratings. Click here to learn more about checking the air quality in your state.
High amounts of dust outside, which are swept up by the wind, are common in areas of dry land. Drought can increase the chance of airborne dust and dust storms, especially in summer.
Most dust in a dust storm tends to be big enough that it can’t get down to your lungs. However, some people with asthma may find their symptoms are triggered during a dust storm. This could be via an allergic response, or just from the irritation in your lungs.
Things you can do to protect yourself during a dust storm:
- Avoid outdoor activity- if you must go outside, spend as little time outside as possible.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a mask or damp cloth to reduce exposure to dust particles- a P2 or P3 mask should block even the finest particles if fitted correctly over the nose and mouth.
- Avoid vigorous exercise.
- Stay indoors, with windows and doors closed.
- Stay in air-conditioned premises, if possible.
- If you are in a car, reduce the amount of dust entering your car by switching the air conditioning to ‘recirculate’.
- Take your asthma medicines as directed.
- If asthma symptoms occur, follow your Asthma Action Plan or start Asthma First Aid.
The longer you’re exposed to dust, the more likely it is you’ll get symptoms. Kids and the elderly are most at risk of breathing difficulties. Symptoms can linger for days after the dust storm so stay alert to your loved ones breathing in the days that follow.