You have probably been told before that dust is just something you have to clean up, something that accumulates on old things. In this article, we cover what dust really is and how these seemingly tiny particles can be so detrimental to your health.
Definition of Dust
Simply put, dust is essentially very fine particles of matter that come from different sources. Dust can be bits of soil, plant pollen, little fibers and even dead skin cells. These tiny particles can travel from place to place by being carried by the wind and other vector agents but usually, the composition of dust is likely dependent on the local environment.
In people’s homes, a portion of the total dust present can be attributed to house dust mites, their feces and other allergens they produce. In the environment, dust is primarily carried from place to place by the atmospheric winds - these dust particles can be made up of anything small enough to be carried off by the wind.
Roadsides are also heavy for dust traffic as road dust is easily kicked up by moving vehicles. Road dust can include particles coming from the vehicles themselves like from the exhausts, the tires and even brake wear.
Health Effects Caused by Dust
As tiny particles that are more than capable of being airborne, dust can cause serious respiratory conditions in the event that they are inhaled. Because the composition of dust can vary, the conditions caused by inhalation of dust also varies.
Allergic and hypersensitivity reactions are one of the most common health conditions brought about by inhalation of dust. Allergies are simply hypersensitive immune reactions to certain substances called “allergens.” The term hypersensitivity is used because, although these substances are not dangerous to most humans, they have been classified as dangerous for those with allergies. That is why their immune system kicks in to overdrive whenever the allergens are present.
Common dust allergens include dust mites, pollen and pet dander and inhalation of these allergens can induce sneezing, irritated eyes, runny nose and nasal congestion. These may seem like harmless symptoms but a person can also have allergic asthma - a condition where allergens can trigger an asthma attack which then proceeds to tighten a person’s airways and can be potentially lethal.
Other conditions can be induced by inhalation of dust with certain components such as bacterial and fungal infections. Microorganisms can sometimes be easily carried by the wind and opportunistically infect people who have inhaled them. These infections are serious because inhalation of bacteria or fungal spores can either invade the lung tissue and colonize there, or even be diffused into the bloodstream and travel to other parts of the body.
Inhalation of dust containing asbestos or quartz can lead to lung scarring and fibrosis. The microscopic asbestos or quartz crystals inhaled can cause tiny cuts in your lungs which cause those cuts to scar over, making the lung inefficient.
Since your lungs are the sole organs to intake oxygen from the environment - oxygen that every single cell in your body needs - then it’s safe to say that lung scarring is a serious issue. Heavy exposure to coal dust has also been known to cause pulmonary disease and other chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as the coal dust invades one’s respiratory system.
Although dust is basically ubiquitous in the environment and in the home, there are ways to reduce the likelihood of dust becoming potentially dangerous. In your homes, actively and periodically clean areas, especially areas where you or other members of the household frequent.
Keeping these areas clean reduces the likelihood of dust inhalation. Recommended to be cleaned once a week, cleaning dust is made easy by just using a damp cloth or with a cleaning solution. Vacuuming can also get rid of dust, but make sure that the area has been inactive for some time to allow all the dust to settle on the floor before using a vacuum.
While environmental dust is unlikely to cause negative effects, wear protection anyway, especially if you are allergic to certain environmental particles such as pollen. During pollen season, wear personal protection (i.e. N95 mask) to avoid showing allergic symptoms.
Also, if you are one to have allergic reactions to dust particles, then it won’t be a bad idea to have anti-allergy medication around. Medication should also be on hand if you are one of those who have asthma attacks induced by dust particles.
Dust is not an easy thing to avoid because it is basically everywhere and made up of different things. While dust can be dangerous, there are proper prevention methods to reduce the risk of developing adverse health conditions caused by dust particles.