The health effects of dust storms in the Southwest United States

  • Larrité Reed Department of Internal Medicine, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, Lubbock, TX
  • Kenneth Nugent Department of Internal Medicine, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, Lubbock, TX


Blowing dust events are a common feature of life in West Texas and the SouthwesternUnited States and are increasing in frequency. The composition of inhaled air varies fromregion to region and may include harmful particles, such as particulate matter, bacteria, fungi,and viruses. There are several types of blowing dust events that can be characterized byphysical observations, including the source of dust, the direction of the wind, the density of theparticulate matter, and several other physical parameters. All blowing dust events have thepotential to cause adverse health effects. Inhalation of dust can cause direct respiratory effectsthat range from transient cough to acute fungal infection to acute respiratory failure. Asiandust storms increase all-cause and respiratory disease emergency room visits and pneumoniaadmissions. There is an association between meningococcal meningitis and Saharan duststorm intrusions into West Africa. Haboob (Arabic for strong wind) dust storms stir up largeamounts of dust from the environment and can blow it into densely populated areas. The“haboob lung syndrome” has been reported in patients from West Texas who presented withdusty sputum, sterile cultures, and multilobar infiltrates. Some of these patients requiredadmission to the hospital for acute respiratory failure and mechanical ventilation. Blowing dustevents are a serious public health issue that can be avoided with prevention. Therefore, it isimportant to forecast blowing dust events and to get this information out to the public on dayswith an increase in particulate density. The population can benefit from these warnings bysimply wearing a respirator mask on these days and by avoiding unnecessary trips outside.


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How to Cite
Reed, L., & Nugent, K. (2018). The health effects of dust storms in the Southwest United States. The Southwest Respiratory and Critical Care Chronicles, 6(22), 42-46.