African Dust: What Is It?
Someone suggested that I write something about the “African Dust” that’s been plaguing Texas. You know, the clouds of dust that have blown across the ocean, wreaking havoc on Texas allergy sufferers?
So I sat down to write something; “What do you say? It’s dust.” Yet everywhere I went, people were talking about it.
What is African Dust???
What is the African dust? Well it comes from the Sahara, gets blown across the Atlantic and the southern US states before arriving in Texas. This isn’t new. It’s been happening for years in the summer. It’s just that this year, it’s particularly bad.
We’ve seen a spike in allergy cases, asthma and sinus infections. Many experts are saying that the plume of particles gifted to us by Africa is to blame. These dust particles are respiratory irritants, so naturally they can trigger asthma attacks or a severe case of allergic rhinitis. Allergic rhinitis can also be a precursor to bacterial sinusitis.
What To Do with Cases of African Dust?
What to do? The first list makes up what could be called “Allergen Avoidance.” Basically, how to minimize the effect that allergens have in the first place. Things like:
- Shoes off in the house and shower before bed to avoid contaminating sheets
- Using pillow covers and mattress covers
- Keeping humidity down. Don’t use a humidifier!
- Minimize stuffed animals
- Remove carpeting if possible and opt for wood floors
- Run an air filter. The evidence around these is questionable. Some experts think they just stir up the allergens in the air. If you use one, make sure it has a HEPA filter, and point it so the outflow is directed at your head while sleeping.
- Vacuum with a HEPA filter-equipped vacuum
Let’s say you’ve done these things. But that dust (or ragweed or anything else that’s got your sinuses gunked up) is still killing you.
- Mild symptoms should be treated with a regular daily dosing of an H1 antihistamine such as Zyrtec® (approved for kids 6 months and older) or Allegra®.
- For more persistent symptoms (let’s face it, if you read this far, that’s probably you), the most effective treatment is a nasal steroid spray (like Flonase®) used daily or during periods of exposure.
- If you also have asthma, talk to your doc about also being on Singulair®
- An antihistamine nasal spray such as azelastine or olopatadine. Some trials have shown these nasal sprays to be effective, and their onset is faster than the nasal steroid.
- Nasal irrigation. I remember hearing about this years ago, and thinking, “Really? Real doctors are endorsing this??” Well, turns out shooting saline up your schnoz is actually really good for you if you have allergies. You can use it on kids too if they can cooperate. One product we like is the NeilMed Sinus Rinse® and the Neti Pot. A friend of mine has gotten her highly allergic kids excited about this by calling it their “booger shooter”.
Stuff we don’t recommend:
- Systemic steroids, like a “steroid shot”, a “Medrol® Dose Pack”, or a course of prednisone. If you’ve ever had this, then it seems like relief sent down from heaven. There’s no question that a blast of steroids will knock out allergy symptoms. But the problem is the side effects. Systemic steroids are TERRIBLE for you. Remember Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco?
- Nasal decongestants. Like Afrin® for example. Again, it seems uh-may-zing. You shoot this stuff up your nose, and ten minutes later you can breathe. But, it’s also terrible for you if used for a long period of time. Prolonged usage, which is only 2 or 3 days, can lead to a condition called rhinitis medicamentosa. This is where your nose runs all. the. Time. Gross.
Countless great things have come from Africa. For starters, it’s the birthplace of humanity. Also, coffee. But the African dust is not something that’s welcomed here.
Hope these tips help you get through it.