Why living in the UAE is nothing to sneeze at

New study looks at reasons why the emirates are hotspots for allergies

Coughing, sneezing, and difficulty in breathing.

A dusty environment, air conditioners and an increased number of projects developing around us do not help.

A survey named Allergies in the Middle East, conducted by Nycomed, which is part of a pharmaceutical company earlier this year looked into the effect of nasal allergies in particular.

The results showed that nasal allergies diminish the quality of life because it prevents people from taking part in outdoor activities, it interferes in work and academic performance, and it causes sufferers of all ages to feel tired, depressed or sad and miserable as a result of bothersome symptoms.

Is the UAE, then, an allergen hotspot which is better to avoid for those who have allergies?

Earlier a research conducted by Dr. Shirin Al Suwaidi, Assistant Professor of Allergy and Immunology in Internal Medicine at UAE University, suggested that more than one-third of adults in the UAE suffer from allergic rhinitis.

Furthermore, among the different types of allergies, inhalant allergies are by far the most common allergy, and dust mite the most common contributor to this ailment, says Dr. Michael Loubser, Immunology, Asthma & Allergy specialist at Infinity Health Clinic.

However, this is not any different in other parts of the world, he explains.

"Having an allergy is not something genetic. In every country there is an average of 25% of the population suffering from allergies. And of this group, about 25% suffer from inhalant allergies.

According to Dr. Loubser, there are certain elements that can ignite an allergic reaction, and these elements may not be present in every part of the world.

"Dust mite, dead cockroaches, mould and pollen are the main elements that ignite an inhalant allergic reaction. In the UAE, more than 90% of people with inhalant allergies are reacting to dust mite," he tells.

"However, people who are allergic to pollen will experience a more severe allergic reaction in countries with a lot of greenery."

"I do not think there are any elements particular of the UAE that contribute to the prevalence of rhinitis," says Dr Al Suwaidi, commenting on her research.

"The elements that contribute to rhinitis are the same as in other parts of the world. The only aspect that could lead to an increased allergic reaction among certain segments of the population is hygiene; when people tend to create a hygienic environment, their resistance against elements that could ignite an allergic reaction weakens.

"Arab households could be prone to this phenomenon."

"In general first-world countries have a bit of a higher rate of allergy prevalence than third-world countries due to the hygiene element," says also Dr. Loubser.

"However, it is hard to apply these phenomena to the UAE, because of the mixed population make-up.

Contrary to Dr. Loubser, Dr. Al Suwaidi mentions pollen as an aspect that an increasing number of people in the UAE suffer from.

"We have experienced the introduction of thousands of new plants and trees that were never seen in the UAE until a decade ago. We see that a lot of people react more severely in the pollen-periods, which are between March-April and August-October."

Meanwhile, a lot of people complain of increased allergic reactions during sandstorms, which every now and then keeps people with inhalant allergies inside for days.

Although sand in itself does not ignite allergic reactions, the sudden upsweep of sand and dust in the air does cause allergic reactions, explains Dr. Loubser.

"The sand contains dust, and the wind sweeps this sand and dust around. People who are allergic for dust mite will suffer more during these sand storms."

Another contributor to the circulation of dust is the air conditioner. "It is not the air conditioner itself," explains Dr. Loubser.

"It is the fact that many air conditioners are not properly maintained. Maintenance is very important, because allergens can easily be transported by this device."

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