Saturday, June 27, 2009


In my last article I wrote about the deplorable condition of the highway fronting the Catherina Cittadini/Don Bosco compound. I ranted and raved over the horrendous traffic clog up caused by the unfinished roads. Needless to say, this situation continues to cause immeasurable misery not only to the parents and students, but also to the countless motorists traveling to and from Dumaguete proper.

This past week, as I continued to literally inch my way towards my daughter’s school, I often thought of this road as either the road to sainthood or damnation. Truly, we don't “drive” through this disaster we call development, we struggle through it. Believe me, the things we have to put up with will test even the patience of a saint!

Being able to keep my cool day after day has become a daily test of patience for me. I count my day a success if I could suppress every urge I’d get to give each and every abusive and undisciplined driver I’d encounter the spanking they so rightly deserved!

Lately though, my concern has shifted from traffic to the perpetual cloud of dust that covers the area. I am often horrified to see children being driven through this cloud without even the most basic covering for their noses! Those children were freely inhaling all that dust and getting all kinds of particles deep into their respiratory system!

I am particularly concerned over this because I suffer from dust allergy. Let me inhale dust for two days or so and you’ll soon find me with a clogged nose and totally knocked down by severe headache.

Before starting to write this, I went online to educate myself about the ill effects of dust inhalation. Let me share what I have learned. But before that, let’s keep in mind that I’m not a doctor, so please pardon any slip-up.

What are dusts? Dusts are tiny solid particles scattered or suspended in the air. The particles are "inorganic" or "organic," depending on the source of the dust. Inorganic dusts can come from grinding metals or minerals such as rock or soil. Organic dusts originate from plants or animals.

Our lungs are constantly exposed to danger from the dusts that we breathe in. Luckily, the lungs have defense mechanisms that protect them by removing dust particles from the respiratory system. On the other hand, even though the lungs can clear themselves, excessive inhalation of dust may still result in disease.

What happens when we breathe in dust? The lungs are protected by a series of defense mechanisms in different regions of the respiratory tract. When a person breathes in, particles suspended in the air enter the nose, but not all of them reach the lungs. The nose is an efficient filter. Most large particles are stopped in it, until they are removed mechanically by blowing the nose or sneezing.

Some of the smaller particles succeed in passing through the nose to reach the windpipe and the air tubes that lead to the lungs. The airways are lined by cells that produce mucus and these catch most of the dust particles. Tiny hairs called cilia move the mucus upward and out into the throat, where it is either coughed up and spat out, or swallowed.

The air that reaches the tiny air sacs in the inner part of the lungs may carry dust particles that have avoided the defenses in the nose and airways. Special cells called macrophages will attack this dust. Macrophages virtually swallow the particles. Then in a way that is not well understood, they reach the part of the airways that is covered by cilia where the wavelike motions move the macrophages that contain dust to the throat, where they are spat out or swallowed.

What are the reactions of the lungs to dust? The way the respiratory system responds to inhaled particles depends, to a great extent, on where the particle settles. For example, irritant dust that settles in the nose may lead to rhinitis, an inflammation of the mucous membrane. If the particle attacks the larger air passages, inflammation of the trachea (tracheitis) or the bronchi (bronchitis) may be seen.

The most significant reactions of the lung occur in the deepest parts of this organ. Particles that evade elimination in the nose or throat tend to settle in the sacs or close to the end of the airways. But if the amount of dust is large, the macrophage system may fail. Dust particles and dust-containing macrophages collect in the lung tissues, causing injury to the lungs.

From what I have learned so far, I think that every parent’s more immediate concern for children who are continually exposed to dust is the development of allergic rhinitis, sinusitis, or asthma.

We have already learned that rhinitis is an inflammation of the mucous membranes of the nose. This is caused by allergy-causing irritants such as dust. Symptoms include: sneezing; itchy nose, roof of the mouth, throat, eyes or ears; runny nose; congestion; and watery eyes.

Sinusitis is a painful, long-lasting inflammation of the sinuses. Sinuses are the hollow cavities around the cheekbones found around the eyes and behind the nose. Symptoms of sinusitis include: congestion; green or gray nasal discharge; postnasal drip; pressure in the face; headache; fever; a cough that won't go away.

Sinusitis may last for months or years if it is not properly treated. Colds are the most common cause of acute sinusitis, but people with allergies are much more likely to develop sinusitis than people who do not have allergies.

Is It a Colds or Allergies? Colds, which result from viral infection, are more likely to occur at any time (though they're more common during the rainy season). On the other hand, if during summer season your child is sneezing and wheezing, he may suffer from allergies.

Although colds and allergies produce similar symptoms, colds usually last only a week or so. And although both may cause your child’s nose and eyes to itch, colds and other viral infections may also give him a fever, aches and pains, and colored mucus. Allergies wont cause these. Cold symptoms often worsen as the days go on and then gradually improve. Allergies, on the other hand, begin immediately after exposure to the offending allergen and last as long as that exposure continues. If you're not sure whether your symptoms are being caused by allergies or a cold, talk with your doctor.

How about asthma? Asthma symptoms can be brought on by dozens of different things, and what causes asthma flare-ups in one person might not bother another at all. The things that set off asthma symptoms are called triggers. The following is one of the more common triggers: allergens. An allergen is any substance that causes an allergic reaction in some people. Some people with asthma find that allergens can be a major trigger. Common allergens are dust mites (microscopic bugs that live in dust), molds, pollen, animal dander, and cockroaches.

Another common trigger are airborne irritants and pollutants. Certain substances in the air, such as chalk dust or smoke, can trigger asthma because they irritate the airways.

I hope that parents reading this will see the point that I am trying to drive at. While excessive inhalation of dust could cause long-term damage to our and our children’s lungs, we should also concern ourselves with its immediate effects.

If your child is having colds that has been going on for weeks, this means that he has developed an allergic reaction to dust. He will most likely develop sinusitis. Believe me, having this condition is not easy. I suffer from migraines because of my allergies. There are nasal sprays that I could use to protect myself against allergens, but they are very expensive, with prices ranging from P700.00 to as much as P1,200.00 and probably even more! There are times when I’d go unprotected because I had either ran out of spray or did not have the extra money to buy another bottle. These are times when I’d be knocked down by excruciating headaches. My experience through the years had made me realize that when our sinuses are clogged, drinking cold water could trigger the headaches.

I am writing about this topic now because I am very concerned for the children that I am seeing everyday being driven through the dust on their way to and from school. They may not be feeling the ill effects now, but it will come. There is no avoiding them.

So what should we do? If our only means of taking our children to school is by open transport such as motorcycle or a multicab, we should ensure that their noses are appropriately covered in the hope of minimizing their exposure to dust.

And children being children, we cannot trust them with mere hankies. Sooner or later, they will most certainly forget that they had to keep holding their hankies up against their noses. Maybe the best that we could do is to make them wear facemasks when we drive through dusty streets.

I don't really know if facemasks are effective protection against dust, but in my mind, it’s better than nothing at all. So what are we waiting for? It’s our children’s future health that we are talking about! Let’s start doing something now!

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