Image Credit: Gulf News

Dubai: One person in six in the UAE suffers from asthma. And despite medical experts’ efforts to increase awareness of the debilitating breathing condition – the numbers continue to rise.

As the summer season approaches, the conditions for asthma patients can significantly worsen.

Asthma is a condition in which the airways narrow and swell and produce extra mucus. This makes breathing difficult and triggers coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.

“When the humidity goes high and allergens like dust mites and AC ducts aren’t maintained, then they could trigger asthma,” Dr Mohammad Rafique, the medical director of Prime Hospital, told Gulf News.

“There are also sand storms in the summer, which can be another trigger,” he said. “Pollen from date plant is an allergen too. There are definitely more allergens during the summer that cause an increase in asthma.”

In addition to these triggers, Dr Trilok Chand, a specialist in Respiratory Medicine at the Burjeel Hospital, Abu Dhabi, said cockroaches are another cause of asthma and are easily found around the house.

“If you see one then you know for sure there are more in the walls and dwellings,” he told Gulf News.

According to a 2012 study, 8 to 11 per cent of the UAE population had asthma. Since then, this number has risen.

During a recent Smart Clinic organised by the Dubai Health Authority, Dr Shahid Afzal, a pulmonologist from Rashid Hospital, said that a study conducted across the Middle East found that more than 14 per cent of the UAE population has asthma.

Unfortunately, doctors aren’t properly diagnosing the symptoms of asthma.

Dr Rafique said that any coughing or wheezing is often referred to as asthma.

“Diagnosis of asthma is very common and so, there is an over diagnosis,” he said. “Any cough or wheezing is labeled as asthma and this is a longstanding, persistent problem. Quite a few patients get labeled, but don’t really have it.”

But for others with the condition, doctors fail to diagnose asthma correctly.

Sadly, under-reporting asthma largely has an effect on children who visit the doctor for allergies or cough treatment.

“They may just have a cough, but then later on they come in and they have a chronic respiratory disease,” Dr Mohammad Shafeeq said. He’s an internal medicine specialist at Medeor 24x7 Hospital.

“Their cough wasn’t properly treated at first,” he told Gulf News.

Isaac – the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood asthma centre based in Auckland, New Zealand -- reported a prevalence of physician-diagnosed asthma of 13 per cent in 3,200 children aged between 6 and 13 across the UAE,

And doctors warn any inaccurate diagnosis of asthma bears consequences — a person can be prescribed the wrong medication for a passing cough, which can have long-lasting effects — and there needs to be an absolute certainty when diagnosing asthma because a failure to diagnose and manage it correctly can result in death.

“If the patient has an acute system or a history of cold and cough then it shouldn’t be treated as a simple cough,” Dr Rafique told Gulf News.

Dr Shafeeq said that “some people come to the hospital with a severe allergic cough and we just leave it alone. We rule out asthma and we don’t end up treating it properly.”

Those who are suffering from asthma and allergic rhinitis – allergens entering the body through the nose -- require treatment for both conditions simultaneously.

“This will help improve their quality of life,” Dr Rafique said.

Asthma can be treated and controlled with a combination of medicines and proactive preventative measures by patients.

“Eighty per cent of people are inaccurately consuming their medicine, said Burjeel Hospital’s Dr Chand. “If they are unsure on how to take their medicine, then they should consult their doctor again.

“If you feel better after a few days, it doesn’t mean you should stop taking the medicine. You need to continue the treatment,” he added.

Marking World Asthma Day on Sunday, health care professionals are working together to create asthma awareness, educate frontline medical workers such doctors and provide accurate treatment to asthma patients.

The writer is an intern at Gulf News.


Expert advice

Avoid allergens like sand storms.

Wear a mask in sandy areas.

Clean your AC ducts well before the beginning of summer.

Avoid petting animals.

Stay away from strong smells like perfumes.

Avoid smoking inhalation and shisha.

Keep medicines with you at all the times even when travelling.