Dust storms reduce air quality and visibility, and may have adverse effects on health. This fact sheet outlines the health risks, and explains what you can do to avoid or reduce the impact of dust storms on your health.
Last updated: 01 November 2003
Dust storms are natural events, and are common in parts of the world with dryland areas. Much of Australia's land surface is made up of deserts and semi-arid rangelands. Periods of severe and widespread drought can dramatically increase the likelihood of major dust storms, particularly during the summer months.
Dust storms reduce air quality and visibility, and may have adverse effects on health, particularly for people who already have breathing-related problems. This fact sheet outlines the health risks, and explains what you can do to avoid or reduce the impact of dust storms on your health.
Dust and respiration
Dust particles vary in size from coarse (non-inhalable), to fine (inhalable), to very fine (respirable).
Coarse dust particles generally only reach as far as the inside of the nose, mouth or throat. Smaller or fine particles, however, can get much deeper into the sensitive regions of the respiratory tract and lungs. These smaller dust particles have a greater potential to cause serious harm to your health.
Commonly, particles in dust storms tend to be coarse or non-respirable and do not pose a serious health threat to the general public. However, some people with pre-existing breathing-related problems, such as asthma and emphysema, may experience difficulties.
Exposure and health effects
The most common symptoms experienced during a dust storm are irritation to the eyes and upper airways. People who may be more vulnerable than others are:
For these people, exposure to a dust storm may:
Prolonged exposure to airborne dust can lead to chronic breathing and lung problems, and possibly heart disease.
The following precautions can help you protect yourself and minimise the adverse effects of a dust storm:
If you are an asthmatic or have a respiratory condition and you develop symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, or chest pain, follow your prescribed treatment plan. If symptoms do not settle, seek medical advice.
Dust storms and safety
Visibility deteriorates very quickly during a dust storm. If you are on the road and your ability to drive safely is impaired by poor visibility, reduce your speed. Be prepared to pull off the road if visibility deteriorates to less than 100m. If your car is air-conditioned, reduce the amount of dust entering your car by switching the air intake to 'recirculate'.
For further information and advice, contact the Environmental Health section of your local council or your Area Health Service Public Health Unit.
|Further information - Public Health Units in NSW|
|For more information please contact your doctor, local public health unit or community health centre - look under NSW Government at the front of the White Pages|
|Metropolitan Areas||Location||Number||Rural Areas||Location||Number|
|Northern Sydney||Hornsby||02 9477 9400||Greater Southern||Goulburn||02 4824 1837|
|Central Coast||Gosford||02 4349 4845||Albury||02 6080 8900|
|South Eastern Sydney||Randwick||02 9382 8333||Greater Western||Broken Hill||08 8080 1499|
|Illawarra Shoalhaven||Wollongong||02 4221 6700||Dubbo||02 6841 5569|
|Sydney South West||Camperdown||02 9515 9420||Bathurst||02 6339 5601|
|Sydney West||Penrith||02 4734 2022||Hunter/New England||Newcastle||02 4924 6477|
|Parramatta||02 9840 3603||Tamworth||02 6764 8000|
|Justice Health Service||Matraville||02 9311 2707||North Coast||Port Macquarie||02 6588 2750|
|Lismore||02 6620 7585|