Is Saharan Dust Dangerous? Ochsner Health tells all

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We’ve been hearing of the Saharan Dust Cloud, but is it dangerous other than kicking up some allergies? Ochsner Health dove into the topic.

In June, the Saharan Air Layer came across to the Southern United States that degraded air quality and caused various health issues. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration says brisk, upper-level winds pick up an estimated 100 million tons of dust from the Sahara Desert each year. NASA reported the dust made a 5,000-mile trip across the Atlantatic to our region and by mid-June, air quality here in Louisiana reached a level that may be unhealthy for certain sensitive groups.


According to the Ochsner blog, the dust is a mix of tiny solid and liquid particles,” Although the dust plume hovers about a mile above the Earth’s surface, it can be very noticeable. It makes the sky hazy or gray and can produce interesting, red-orange sunsets.” The dust can cause havoc on those with underlying airway or bronchial disease. The article states the haze may not impact the general public all that much, however, increased inhalation of any type of dust can be irritating. According to the American Lung Association, those with chronic lung or respiratory diseases are more at risk for developing complications. The high-risk group may experience symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, sneezing, eye irritation, along with chest and throat discomfort.

Another aspect of the dust is the different sized dust partictles that may create different reprecussions. For example, Ochsner Health stated that larger particles can enhance allergy symptoms, irritate the lining of the eyes, nose, and throat. The smaller and more fine particles can cause issues for the population with breathing issues due to the particles penetrating the lungs. When that happens, the person may experience shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, and tightening of the chest. Experts claim that approximately 30 percent of the dust is considered to be “fine” in size.

Ochsner recommends for those living in areas that are experiencing higher levels of dust to reduce the amount of time spent outdoors, and while indoors, keep windows closed. Also, they recommend regularly changing air conditioner filters. For those that are highly sensitive, wearing a face mask outdoors may help because it is a helpful way to avoid inhaling particles of the dust. They encourage patients to speak to an allergist if symptoms get worse due to the Saharan Dust. Although the dust may be a pest, there is a silver-lining to it especially those in South Louisiana. The dust clouds can cripple the formation of hurricanes.