Israel under haze: Here’s how the sand can harm your health

The haze outside is an environmental nuisance and impacts the health of almost all of us. Here's what it can do to your body.

 Tourists on Mount Olives look at the foggy view of the Old City of Jerusalem on April 24, 2022, as a major sand storm hit across Israel.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Tourists on Mount Olives look at the foggy view of the Old City of Jerusalem on April 24, 2022, as a major sand storm hit across Israel.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The Environmental Protection and Health ministries alerted the public on Sunday, just as everyone was returning to school and work after Passover, that there was a high level of air pollution in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and the north.

The rest of the country experienced moderate to high air pollution, calculated based on the high concentration of particles that one can inhale.

"From what we know about air pollution in general, it damages the respiratory system, causes irritation to the eyes and also damages other organs," explained Prof. Hagai Levine, chairman of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians at the Israel Medical Association, on the Zavit website.

Levine added that particles smaller than 2.5 microns enter human blood vessels through the lungs and then clog them.

These particles can reach various organs in the body via the bloodstream and can lead to heart attacks and brain damage, especially in high-risk population groups.

 Heavy fog on a main road near Netanya, on April 25, 2022.  (credit: FLASH90) Heavy fog on a main road near Netanya, on April 25, 2022. (credit: FLASH90)

Death in these cases usually results from damage associated with a blockage of blood vessels in the heart which causes myocardial infarction.

The brain is also very sensitive, especially during development, making toddlers and fetuses at a higher risk.

Danger to people with compromised immune systems

The Health and Environmental Protection ministries have advised people who are at-risk — including those with heart and lung conditions, the elderly, children and pregnant women — to avoid all strenuous outdoor physical activity. For the general population, when the weather is hazy, the ministries advise reducing the length of time spent jogging or to do other types of outdoor workouts.

 Damage to fetuses and toddlers

"When a pregnant woman breathes in dust, particles pass through the lungs into her bloodstream, and through it also reaches the growing brain of the fetus, whose development is very complex," explained Levine.

"There are small blood vessels in the brain, and if particles reach these vessels and block them, blood flow to the brain is impaired and therefore function is affected.”

He added that the composition and size of the particle, along with the amount of exposure, change the type of injury and its severity. Various factors — even the fetus’ sex — can be a determining factor. Other elements can also be an influence so further research is required.

He also added that the development of the brain continues after birth so toddlers may also be affected by the damage.

"We know that air pollution impairs brain maturation and can cause various cognitive disorders and even autism. Although fetuses and toddlers are quite vulnerable, constant exposure to severe air pollution can affect small kids throughout life," he added.

"Damage from exposure might not be apparent at first, but the effects which are seen later are an opportunity to learn about how pollution affects health, which will lead to ways to prevent morbidity and mortality "

Headaches  

A study conducted at the Soroka-University Medical Center in Beersheba in 2016, and later published in the Cephalalgia journal, found a close link between air pollution and headache complaints.

It turns out that air pollution that occurs in the Spring is the most problematic and is associated with a 32% increase in emergency room calls with headaches

"It is true that it’s intuitively easy to link air pollution to headaches, but, to date, this connection wasn’t scientifically proven," explained Dr. Gal Ifergan, director of the neurology department at Soroka and deputy director of the hospital.

The conclusions were derived from a large-scale study that spanned over a decade (from 2002 to 2012) and included data on more than 18,000 people who went to the Soroka ER with complaints of headaches. In total, there were 22,021 inquiries. The majority (57%) were women as well as young people under the age of 40 (60%).