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The health economics of allergies


By Aimee Greaves

Allergies are a part of daily life for many people. But the severity of the condition means up to 50 per cent of sufferers have to take time off work to recuperate. Whether they suffer from hay fever, or have reactions to dust mites, animals or certain foods, they can be debilitating to the point where people have no choice but to call in sick.

According to research from the World Allergy Organisation (WAO), between 10 and 15 per cent of the world's population suffer from some kind of allergy. And an International study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (Isaac) study recently found prevalence of hay fever in the UAE stands at 14.9 per cent, asthma at 13 per cent and eczema at 11 per cent.

Professor Ruby Pawankar, treasurer of the WAO and Chair of the First Middle East-Asia Allergy Asthma Congress, which will take place in Dubai in March, says these conditions can have a serious impact on daily life.

"We are so wrapped up in the economics of what is happening around the world that people fail to realise what impact allergies are having," she says. "If people are not treated, they are not able to perform as well at work and research shows that between 27 and 47 per cent of sufferers lose work days as a result of their condition."

Dr Mohammed Salah Eldin, Consultant in Internal Medicine and Nephrology, Medcare Hospital, Dubai, says that a lot of the problems are down to the density of our cities.

"Many people live and work in compact areas, which can cause problems, especially for asthma sufferers as they inhale dust, sand and other particles in the air," he says.

Professor Pawankar, who was in Dubai recently to launch the forthcoming congress would also like to see more specialists in the region, which she says will take some pressure off the healthcare industry.

"It's not just medication, but physicians' fees and hospitalisation on top of lost work days that attribute to the cost of the conditions. It's what we call health economics. If there were more specialist places to treat allergies more would be diagnosed and this would save money in the long run.

"We hope the conference will lay the foundations for allergies to become a specialism in the region because as the problem rises, so too will the burden on finances."

Dr Eldin agrees, and says that even though primary care physicians can treat a number of allergies, there is a need for generating awareness.

There is now medication to prevent some allergies but the majority of people are treated after symptoms occur, with anti-histimines being one of the main drugs.

"It's one of the weak points in the health system. I've been here for three months and only know of one allergist in the Jumeirah area [where Medcare is based] and he is a very busy man," he says.

To reduce suffering

- Clean air conditioning vents, as a buildup of mould can have an affect

- Do not have wall-to-wall carpets at home as they are breeding grounds for dust mites

- Regularly vacuum mattresses and sofas to reduce dust and wear a mask to prevent breathing in mites

- Stay away from smoking areas and other highly polluted places

- Don't keep flowers with high levels of pollen in the house