Both sneeze and cough are productive reflexes that clear the upper airways of bacteria, viruses, pollutants, and irritants including dust. A sneeze will remove dust that irritates the upper nasal lining and a cough will expel dust that is irritating the bronchial passages.
What is Dust?
If you were asked to describe "dust", your first inclination might be to think of it as being dirt. The truth is that dust is so much more complex than dirt can ever dream of being. Dust can include all of the following and more: bacteria, viruses, fabrics, feathers, saliva, mold spores, fungus spores, pollen food particles, human skin flakes, animal dander, dust mites, human hair, plant particles, insect particles, outside dirt, and chemicals.
Taking a look at this list, you can see many of the items that make up dust are allergens in their own right; you can imagine why your body wants to get rid of them; especially when they gang up on you. Sneezing and coughing are you body's natural defenses against these bullies.
The EPA says that indoor air can 70 times more polluted than air from the outdoors; much of this can be attributed to dust. Cough and sneezing are not the only symptoms caused by indoor air pollution; eye irritation, sinus problems, headache, and even fatigue are others.
Limit Exposure to Dust
If you suffer from dust allergies, your best treatment is to limit your exposure to dust. There is no way to eliminate dust all together but there are a few steps you can take to minimize how much accumulates and floats in the air.
Vacuum floors, rugs, furniture, and drapery often. A vacuum cleaner with a built in HEPA filter can help minimize the dust that is forced back into the air during the vacuuming process. Avoid sweeping and using feather dusters as they stir up the dust exasperating your symptoms.
Using an air purifier in your home can filter out allergens in the air and minimize the amount of dust that accumulates. Consider placing one in the central room of your home or in your bedroom. You may also want to consider using air duct filters that will continually filter large quantities of dust from all areas of your home.
Close windows on windy days during allergy season. One large gust of wind can blow pollen into your home coating surfaces, lingering in the air, and instantly attracted to existing dust present. If the trees are moving outside, close up your windows.
The next time you cough or sneeze because of dust, know that it is simply your body's reflexes working just as they should.
Elizabeth Dennis writes for a variety of health topics.