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Wellness

Breathing in Dust: How Harmful is Dust Exposure?

7 Mins read

Dust is everywhere, and many of us are constantly breathing in dust. Some of us are breathing in dust more than others, however, especially if we live in a downtown metropolis with construction going on all around us, and dust lining our window ledges, coming into our home. Still others are breathing in dust even more so, if they have a job that leaves them exposed to lots of dust.

Dust is the by-product of countless forms of motion and activity in our day-to-day life, as well as construction debris floating around and into our home. 

No matter where you go, the atmosphere will always consist of a selection of different components coming together to create dust, from dead skin cells to clothing fibers, soil particles, and pollen.

Most of us move through life barely noticing the impact of dust on our airways. But some people – those exposed frequently to dust due to their jobs, or where they live – may find all of this dust starts to have an impact on their well-being.

The more dust we inhale, the more pressure we put on our lungs.

Eventually, extensive amounts of dust can scar your lungs, increase your chances of disease, and dust exposure can also potentially damage your immune system.

Dust Inhalation and the Body’s Defense: What Happens When You’re Breathing in Dust? 

The lungs naturally have defence mechanisms in place to help them manage the regular exposure to dust you inhale every day. When a person breathes in, particles of dust enter through the nose and mouth. However, when you’re breathing in dust each day, not all of these dust particles will reach the lungs.

For example, the nose and nose hairs offer an excellent filter for dust, and most large particles are stopped by it (which is why you frequently sneeze when breathing in a lot of dust).

While smaller particles of dust may pass through into the air tubes leading to the lungs, these tubes (the bronchi and bronchioles) produce a mucus to capture most dust particles. Tiny hairs known as cilia move the mucus upwards and out of the throat over time.

Any dust reaching the lower part of the airways and the air sacs of the lungs are attacked by macrophages, responsible for keeping the lungs clean. The wide number of defense strategies in place for the lungs means most of us don’t suffer any significant symptoms.

However, extensive amounts of dust can make it impossible to clean out all of the pollution and toxic substances. Particles that evade the defense mechanisms settle into the sacs in the lungs, causing a build-up in the tissues which eventually cause scar tissue to form. Eventually, the lungs can be overwhelmed by scar tissue, and in rare cases, begin to fail.

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Symptoms of Excessive Dust Inhalation

The effects of dust inhalation can depend on a number of factors. Breathing in crystalline silica dust in a construction environment or workplace causes a specific condition caused “Silicosis”.

Once inside of the lungs, the silica found in rock, stone, clay, and sand causes inflammation and swelling usually leading to the hardened and scarred lung tissue. Lung tissue scarred in this way will be unable to heal and function properly.

A similar issue to Silicosis, called Pneumoconiosis is also considered to be a form of occupational lung disease caused by dust inhalation. This issue actually causes hundreds of thousands of deaths each year, making it extremely difficult to breathe as normal.

Even breathing in typical household dust from a home located close to a construction site or in a particularly dusty area can cause significant damage. You may experience symptoms of excessive dust inhalation in the form of:

Sneezing

Sneezing is one of the most common ways for the body to defend itself from dust. Your body will react to the presence of dust, attempting to get it out of your system as quickly as possible through regular sneezing to clean the airways.

You may sneeze more often if you have an allergy to dust too. A lot of people are allergic or hyper-sensitive to dust, which causes additional symptoms, including wheezing, itching, shortness of breath, and discomfort around the eyes.

Coughing

Your body naturally attempts to limit dust inhalation by forcing regular sneezing. However, in an extremely dusty environment, it’s difficult to fully prevent all dust from entering the body. When you do end up breathing in dust, you’ll eventually end up with a consistent cough.

Coughing is another way to remove dust from inside of your airways, particularly when you cough up mucus. If you cough up a lot of mucus, this is a sign dust is collecting in the tubes entering your lungs, and an indication you need to find a better way of protecting your airways.

Rhinitis

Commonly known as hay fever, Rhinitis is a common health issue which can emerge after subjecting your body to frequent dust inhalation. 

Rhinitis causes the inflammation of the mucous membrane and swelling in the bronchi.

Rhinitis can cause an itchy nose, irritated throat, and itchy eyes.

The symptoms are either very similar to hay fever, or they may be exactly the same if you’re living in an area where a lot of the dust you breathe in is made up of pollen particles, as well as other substances responsible for sensitivities.

Asthma (or similar symptoms)

There’s no clear research at the moment to show dust inhalation definitely causes asthma attacks. However, if you have asthma and surround yourself with dust regularly, you’re likely to experience attacks a lot more often.

You’ll need to be extra careful about your exposure to dust if you have conditions which already affect your airways, such as asthma, chronic obstructive airways disease (COPD) or Emphysema. Since a build-up of dust can end up blocking parts of your lungs, it can make it even harder to breathe naturally.

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How to Reduce Your Dust Inhalation

If you’re living in an environment where you’re constantly exposed to large volumes of dust, you’ll need to take extra steps to protect yourself. For example, if you live in the downtown core, and there’s a lot of construction in surrounding buildings emitting a ton of dust pollution into the air, it would help to get screens for your windows, so that when you air out your apartment, you’re screening out some of that dust. Mesh dust screens can reduce the penetration of dust from the outside coming into your home.

Reducing dust inhalation also  involves embracing the correct cleaning routine and using additional dust-combating tools to minimize inhalation.

To start, most people with extremely dusty homes will need at least a basic daily cleaning routine. This may involve collecting the dust in areas around high-traffic areas in your home on a daily basis with tools such as:

  • Lambswool dusters: While feather dusters can aggravate allergies by moving the dust around, lambswool contains lanolin to help trap dust. This ensures you can get rid of the dust as quickly as possible, without just moving it.
  • Microfiber cloths: microfiber cloths are also excellent for trapping dust, rather than simply stirring it into the air. Wetting the cloth with a very small amount of water can help to attract dust if you need help removing it.
  • Duster vacuums: Specialist duster vacuums are excellent for those with extensive amounts of dust in their home, or severe allergies. It usually comes with a duster, and a HEPA filter for help removing the dust from your home.

Most particularly dusty homes will need a regular routine which involves dusting and vacuuming on a daily basis. Make sure you address commonly overlooked areas which can quickly collect dusts, such as blinds, baseboards, and the spaces between headboards and walls.

Washing your bedding on a weekly basis, and any fabrics you’re frequently exposed to, including blankets and cushion covers in the living room, will help to get rid of excess dander and skin cells which can build up and get trapped in the material.

Remember to:

  • Clean in the right order: Clean rooms from top to bottom. This means dusting light fixture sand high surfaces first, and vacuuming the carpets last, when dust has had plenty of opportunity to drift down to the floor.
  • Remove clutter: As difficult as it can be to throw things away, the more clutter you have in your home, the more surfaces there will be where dust can gather. Make a regular habit of sorting through your belongings and getting rid of anything you don’t need.
  • Vacuum (Don’t sweep): Sweeping generally kicks up more dust than it removes, making it impossible to get control of your atmospheric situation. Choose a vacuum cleaner with a special HEPA filter for trapping dust, and make sure you use it 2-3 times per week.

Filtering Your Home Air

If you don’t want to wear a dust mask in your home most of the time to minimize inhalation, the best alternative is to start filtering the air in your home. Make sure you regularly change the filters in your HVAC system, as they’ll likely end up clogged with dust a lot faster than you’d think.

You can also look for filters in your cleaning supplies. HEPA filter vacuum cleaners are designed to trap dust more effectively.

Another option is to purchase an air purification system. There are a number of options out there capable of removing not just dander and pollen from the air, but a host of other substances too. Look for an air purifier which specifically says it’s capable of capturing dust. The best air filter for dust is usually a HEPA filter, which will need to be cleaned or replaced regularly.

Managing your Exposure to Dust

Dust is a normal part of our natural environment, and something we can’t help being exposed to on a daily basis. However, for the people who encounter more dust than most on a regular basis, it can be helpful to find ways of reducing the impact dust can have.

Excessive amounts of dust don’t just make your home look messy; it can also be extremely problematic for your short and long-term health.

Depending on your situation, you may not even need to live in a dusty space to see the negative side effects of dust. A CircleDNA test could show you have a genetic sensitivity to dust and pollen, increasing your chances of allergic responses to a dusty home.

Rebekah Carter
97 posts

About author
Rebekah is a committed copywriter and freelance content producer with a history in the technology, marketing, and health sectors. She’s worked with leading brands around the world, and is constantly searching for new ways to expand her knowledge, and skills.
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