Monsoons can provide a much-needed break from the monotony of summer’s 110-degree-plus days, but the season also brings some health concerns.
Monsoon storms drop air quality by locking in pollution. High ozone levels can worsen respiratory conditions such as asthma and make breathing harder for the elderly and the very young. Symptoms caused by high ozone levels include sore throat, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. When ozone levels are high, you should limit your time outdoors.
Dust storms are also common during monsoon season, which can worsen asthma and other chronic pulmonary conditions. This dust can carry coccidioides immiti. That’s the soil-dwelling fungus that can cause Valley fever, which you can inhale without even knowing.
“I see a lot of Valley fever in my practice,” says David Drachler, MD, a pulmonary disease specialist at HonorHealth Medical Group. “The pattern that I’ve noticed over the years is that when we have a wet spring, a dry summer and then a windy fall, it’s in the fall that we see the cases of Valley fever on the rise.”
He added that Valley fever infections can occur at any time during the year, but it’s most prevalent in fall after monsoon season.
Valley fever symptoms and treatment
Valley fever is more commonly found in arid regions, notably the southwestern United States, Mexico, and South America. Symptoms vary from person to person, which can make it difficult to diagnose.
You may experience:
• Fever, chills, fatigue, cough, and headache
• Rashes, chest pain, joint aches, shortness of breath, and nausea
• Symptoms that typically last for up to four weeks
Symptoms can mimic other common respiratory illnesses, like colds, the flu or even COVID-19.
Valley fever commonly resolves on its own, but more severe infections require antifungal treatments by a doctor.
“Most cases of Valley fever go unrecognized and untreated, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” says Dr. Drachler. “About 60% of patients who are infected come and see a doctor, and of them, probably half of the cases I see don’t require treatment. In most people with healthy immune systems, treatment with antifungal medications isn’t necessary.”
However, if your symptoms are severe, see your doctor to make sure your body doesn’t need help fighting the infection.
Take precautions to prevent Valley fever
“Once you’re infected with Valley fever, it remains in your system for life,” says Dr. Drachler. “Most people develop immunity to recurrent disease or progressive disease, but people with compromised immune systems can experience progressive disease or reactivation.”
Take these precautions to minimize your exposure to the fungus:
If you see a dust storm or receive a dust storm warning, head inside.
If you’re in a car when a dust storm strikes, roll up the windows and keep the vents closed to avoid directly breathing the dust.
Install HEPA filters to improve the quality of the air you breathe inside.
If you’re experiencing symptoms that you suspect may be Valley fever, make an appointment with your doctor.