THE unprecedented hazardous air quality caused by Sahara dust on Sunday has not caused significant health issues among people with respiratory problems.
General manager of primary care at the Tobago Regional Health Authority (TRHA) Dr Roxanne Mitchell said the TRHA has not noticed an "overwhelming" demand for healthcare to deal with respiratory illnesses.
The Meteorological Office has said a thick plume of Sahara dust is making its way over the Caribbean.
The Met Office on Sunday said the Air Quality Index is now rated as unhealthy for sensitive groups (112) in Point Lisas, Trinidad and hazardous (153) in Signal Hill, Tobago, and people who are sensitive to these changes should continue to take precautions.
Although the peak of the dust event was on Sunday, the conditions are expected to persist until Friday.
Speaking with Newsday on Tuesday, Mitchell said public health facilities remain prepared to manage those with respiratory symptoms caused by the increased Sahara dust.
“The influx is not what we would have expected, but yes, we do have a few people coming in with regard to that. It’s not an overwhelming number."
She outlined some of the protective measures one should take.
“If you have to go outside, you need to use your face masks, that will help to reduce the dust and some of the allergens that you breathe in. Reduce your activities; now is not the time to go out and exercise, because the air quality is poor, and it would reduce...the amount of oxygen that you can actually take in. Keep your respiratory inhalers close by if it is that you’re in fact an asthmatic.
"And generally keep your surfaces clean, remove any dust from your surfaces, as these can trigger asthmatic attacks and allergic reactions,” she said.
The Ministry of Health said in a press release that Sahara dust may contain various particles which can produce symptoms such as a dry cough, sore throat, itchy and watery eyes, sneezing as well as a runny nose.
It said high levels of Sahara dust may exacerbate illness in those at high risk of respiratory complications, including people with pre-existing lung disease such as asthma or heart disease, the elderly and children.
"Those with pre-existing conditions should stay indoors, when possible, and should have their rescue inhaler with them at all time," the ministry advised.
People may experience symptoms during the days of a "Sahara dust event" but these symptoms "should disappear as the dust levels reduce,” the ministry said.
It added that affected people should seek medical attention if they are severely short of breath and have fever for more than two to three days or a severe worsening of a pre-existing condition.