DUBAI // More children are suffering from allergies and chronic asthma – and escaping indoors may not be enough to avoid the symptoms.
Emiratis are 4.2 times more likely than expatriates to suffer from asthma, and women 1.8 times more likely than men. In 2011, there were 139,092 reported cases of asthma attacks.
There is a particular problem at this time of year, with poor air quality and sandstorms. Dust, sand, pollen and spores force some asthmatics and allergy sufferers indoors. But dust mites, animal dander and even cockroaches are making matters worse indoors.
Michelle Karam, 34, who lives in Al Garhoud with her husband Elie and daughter Chloe, 3, suffered regular flu-like symptoms before taking drastic steps to clean up her home.
“It was not asthma, but more like an allergic reaction,” she said. “Even if we opened the windows it made no difference. We had blocked noses, teary eyes and sneezing.
“Chloe was regularly ill and we didn’t know what the problem was, which was worrying, We gave her medicine for the symptoms but it made little difference.
“I did some research online and found dust mites could be causing the problem.”
Michelle called in a specialist company to sanitise all the bedding and soft furnishings in her home.
It was a similar story for Abigail Caidoy and her two children, Marcus, 7, and Chloe, 3, who live near Al Nahda.
“Marcus would have breathing difficulties, particularly at night and it was difficult for him to sleep,” Ms Caidoy said.
“His chest was particularly bad so we took him to see the doctor. He was prescribed medication for 30 days, The doctor said it wasn’t asthma but an allergy to dust.
“Chloe was also suffering with sneezing and would wake up regularly at night. The doctor recommended that we have the home deep cleaned.”
Medical centres are usually the first stop for worried parents when symptoms persist. Specialists have said lifestyle changes and cleaner living have made the problem more common in children.
Dr Bassam Mahboub, a pulmonologist and allergy doctor with the Emirates Respiratory Society, said a lack of exposure to infectious agents, micro-organisms and parasites was suppressing the natural development of some children’s immune systems.
“This is making them more susceptible to allergy related illnesses. Allergy asthma and general allergy are on the rise all over the world because of this hygiene hypothesis.
“The more we are healthy and don’t have viruses and bacteria, our immune system is skewed towards allergies and that is more likely in developed countries, like the UAE.
“When you also have pollution and heavy traffic with gases coming from combustion it makes people more susceptible. For asthma, the same applies for smoking exposure.”
Allergens are substances that cause reactions and trigger asthma symptoms. Airborne particles settle on to furniture and floor surfaces. Millions of dust mites can also infest household mattresses and other soft furnishings. Most people will feel no ill effects, but asthmatics could find their cardiovascular health deteriorates.
Many asthma sufferers claim dust triggers symptoms of wheezing and a tight chest, but in many cases the droppings of dust mites are to blame.
Marina Khoury, 43, whose family live in Arabian Ranches, has noticed an improvement since deep cleaning her home. Although Marina and husband Wissam, 44, did not suffer, both their children Anessa, 4, and Enzo, 3, did.
“Both children had persistent cough and cold like symptoms,” she said. “It was clear they were allergic to something, but we didn’t know what.
“I tried everything to find out what it was, changing the materials in their clothes and washing powders but still they had skin rashes.
“We ended up sanitising the whole house. Now they are fine.”