Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Dust storms

3-minute read

A dust storm can reduce the quality of the air that we breathe. While we should all take precautions in a dust storm, some people – such as those who have respiratory (breathing) conditions – may need to take special care. 

What is a dust storm?

Dust storms occur when strong, hot, dry winds blow dust and soil into the air and move it across the country, often for many kilometres. These storms are more likely to occur in the summer and after a period of drought, when the land is warmer and the soil is more exposed. 

Because Australia has large areas of dry, sun-baked land, dust storms are more common here than in cooler countries that have more rainfall. 

How can dust storms affect a person’s health?

Health problems can develop if someone breathes in the dust from a dust storm. The effects will depend on how large the dust particles are. 

Larger particles can irritate the eyes and upper airways (your nose, sinuses behind the nose and your trachea, or windpipe). In most people, these particles don’t cause health problems because they are too coarse to move down further into the lower airways.

Smaller dust particles, however, can get deep into the lungs and cause irritation and inflammation. This can cause problems with breathing, especially if you already have a health issue with your lungs.

Who is at risk?

Those most at risk of health problems because of a dust storm are:

Depending on the health condition involved, breathing in dust from a dust storm could trigger an asthma attack, allergic reaction, make it difficult to breathe or even cause a heart-related problem.

The longer you are exposed to the dust, the more chance that it could have an effect on you.

What are the warning signs of difficulty breathing?

If you have asthma or another chronic respiratory condition and you experience chest tightness, wheezing, coughing or shortness of breath, you should follow your prescribed action or treatment plan. If the symptoms don’t get better, you should see your doctor. 

You should also see your doctor if you have any concerns or experience breathing problems or other worsening symptoms from a pre-existing heart or other chronic condition.

Precautions to take during a dust storm

  • Stay indoors as much as possible, particularly if you are at risk of health problems. 
  • Close the windows, doors and vents.
  • If possible, stay in an air-conditioned room. 
  • If you have to go outside, wear a mask over your mouth and nose to prevent you from breathing in dust. A P2 or P3 mask, available from a hardware store, should be effective. 
  • Avoid exercise, particularly if outdoors.
  • If you have one, stick to your asthma or other action plan or treatment plan.
  • If it’s safe to do so, check on elderly neighbours or other vulnerable people.

If you are caught in a dust storm while driving, turn on the ‘recirculation’ air intake to minimise the amount of dust entering your car. If you can’t see ahead of you clearly, slow down. Be prepared to pull over and stop if visibility is very low. 

Further help and information

  • If you have a medical emergency, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.
  • To discuss how to manage your health in a dust storm, call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 to speak to a registered nurse.

For further information about weather conditions, visit the Australian Bureau of Meteorology website at www.bom.gov.au.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2019

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Dust storms and asthma - National Asthma Council Australia

High levels of dust can irritate the lungs and cause an asthma flare up.

Read more on National Asthma Council Australia website

Air pollution and health

Air pollution occurs when the air contains substances that can affect or even cause harm to humans, animals or the wider environment.

Read more on WA Health website

Dust storms - Fact sheets

Dust storms reduce air quality and visibility, and may have adverse effects on health. This fact sheet outlines the health risks, and explains what you can do to avoid or reduce the impact of dust storms on your health.

Read more on NSW Health website

Dust storms :: SA Health

Dust storms are caused when strong, turbulent winds greater than 30km/hour, carry fine particles of dust from the surrounding area with the wind.

Read more on SA Health website

Health alert: reminder to look after your health during dust storms | Health

Canberrans with asthma and other pre-existing respiratory conditions are being advised that unsettled conditions forecast over the next two days, including a potential dust storm, could exacerbate their conditions.

Read more on ACT Health website

Health effects of dust

Dust is a common air pollutant generated by many different sources and activities.

Read more on WA Health website

Cardiac Vulnerability in Potentially Susceptible Patients | HealthEngine Blog

This project is part of a program project directed toward assessing cardiac effects of particulate and other ambient air pollutants

Read more on HealthEngine website

Asthma | Garvan Institute of Medical Research

Asthma is an inflammatory condition which affects the bronchial tubes in the lungs. Read about the disease, Garvan's research and find useful information for managing asthma.

Read more on Garvan Institute of Medical Research website

Bushfires and asthma - National Asthma Council Australia

Bushfires and asthma first aid

Read more on National Asthma Council Australia website

Bronchial asthma and cardiac asthma - myDr.com.au

Find out the difference between cardiac and bronchial asthma.

Read more on myDr website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo