Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) advises residents to take basic health and safety precautions as dust storms lash the country.

Dust storms, which herald the transition to summer in Qatar, 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.

According to Medical Director of Hamad General Hospital (HGH), Dr Yousuf Al Maslamani, a considerable number of patients have come to the HGH’s Emergency Department (ED) with ailments related to the dusty weather, which started on the night of Wednesday 1 April 2015 and is expected to continue throughout the coming days.

Between the onset of the sandstorm, several of the patients seen at the ED presented with eye and ear, nose and throat (ENT) injuries. In addition, more than 300 people have been treated for respiratory related issues, double the usual number.

The EDs in other general hospitals in Al Wakra and Al Khor Hospitals have also seen additional cases with respiratory diseases relating to the sandstorm. More patients with similar issues are expected to attend the evening clinics and HMC’s clinical leadership has ensured that additional staffing resources are in place to deal with the influx of patients.

During the same period, the main Pediatric Emergency Center at Al Saad has received more than 700 urgent cases, including 74 asthmatic patients with 13 admitted for observation. Other PECs in Al Rayyan, Airport, Al Shamal and Al Daayen have received more than 600 patients including 53 asthmatic cases with 14 admitted for observation.

On 1 April, the Ambulance Service (AS) recorded a call volume of 634 of which emergency call volume was 480 and non-emergency was 154. Majority of cases where the ambulance was called, were respiratory related conditions aggravated by dust.

Dr Al Maslamani advises taking the following precautions during dust storms:

  • 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.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a mask or damp cloth to reduce inhalation of particles of dust when going out.
  • When driving, keep the car’s windows closed, and opt for air conditioning instead of fresh air.
  • 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.
  • During hot weather, always carry a supply of water to keep from being dehydrated.
  • 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 see their doctors as soon as possible if an infection occurs.

According to Dr Al Maslamani, those who show symptoms of allergies such as watering of the eyes, cough, wheesing or asthma can go to their Primary Healthcare Centers (PHCs). ‘Those who have severe trouble breathing, or start coughing green sputum, might have a lung infection and should go to the Emergency Department,’ he added.

To prevent vehicular accidents due to decreased visibility during dust storms, motorists are cautioned to drive more slowly and to pull over when there is low visibility, particularly when driving in open areas, and to use hazard lights when needed. People living away from the city, where there is no structure or building to break down the dust and reflect the sunlight, are advised to avoid going out unless absolutely necessary.