A 2022 file photo of Sahara dust over Jamaica. (Photo: Naphtali Junior)

WITH an anticipated increase in the number of patients, particularly children, turning up at health facilities to treat respiratory illnesses brought on by the plume of Sahara dust now affecting Jamaica, a medical doctor is advising parents to be particularly vigilant in lessening the impact of this allergy trigger.

The dust, made up of sand particles, is now blanketing the central Caribbean, and is expected to affect air quality and possibly aggravate asthma symptoms.

According to the US weather forecast company AccuWeather, up to 5:40 pm on Monday, based on current pollutants, the air quality index in Jamaica was fair, at 40, which, it explained, is generally acceptable for most individuals.

"However, sensitive groups may experience minor to moderate symptoms from long-term exposure," AccuWeather said.

DR GIRVAN... Sahara dust most likely to greatly impact children with asthma

It explained that these inhalable pollutant particles with a diameter less than 2.5 micrometers can enter the lungs and bloodstream, resulting in serious health issues. The most severe impacts, it said, are on the lungs and heart. Exposure can result in coughing or difficulty breathing, aggravated asthma, and the development of chronic respiratory disease.

Medical officer for paediatric cardiology at Bustamante Hospital for Children Dr Taleya Girvan told the Jamaica Observer on Monday that children are more susceptible to these effects of the dust, so greater precaution should be taken to protect them.

These, she said, include wearing masks when outside; keeping doors and windows closed; having asthma and cough medications handy; cleaning household items, such as fans, furniture, carpets, that may collect dust; and stay hydrated.

"Try to keep kids inside as much as possible. I know it will be hard, but it won't last forever," she said, adding that parents, despite the additional expense, may consider buying an air filter for the home.

She said the dust is most likely to greatly impact children with asthma, children already prone to frequent chest infections like those with underlying chronic conditions such as heart disease, lung diseases, sickle cell patients with history of acute chest syndrome, and other conditions with lowered immune responses.

"Also, it is the summer, it's on top of a lot of allergens and a lot of persons are experiencing allergies... because certain plants [are blossoming], and just the heat itself is causing a lot of allergies. So on top of the allergies, the Sahara dust is just going to make it worse," she said.

Dr Girvan said parents should also be aware of the signs and symptoms of the dust's effect.

"They should look out for things like if they start coughing a little bit in the evenings, or they start having the sniffles...," she said.

Dr Girvan said other symptoms to look out for include wheezing, chest tightness, watery itchy eyes and nose, dripping at the back of the throat, and itchy throat and ear.

In the meantime, giving a general take on the impact of the Sahara dust on Jamaicans, Medical Officer of Health Dr Kimberly Myers said that everyone is likely to be affected through either respiratory symptoms onset or exacerbation, but those with a medical predisposition are more vulnerable.

"Persons with respiratory illnesses should, in discussions with physicians, consider making adjustments to medications used to keep their illness under control. For some conditions this is standard in their management plans, for example patients with asthma," she said.

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