Dust can cause breathing difficulties in asthmatics Image Credit: GN Archives

Your nose has a first line of defence — it’s those pesky hairs you can see as well as the microscopic ones (cilia) that oscillate in the nasal cavity, ushering particulate to the pharynx, where they’re trapped by mucus that is later expelled from the body. Why does your nose need these sentries? It turns out there’s a lot out there in the air that we need protecting from.

In the UAE, more than 14 per cent of the population suffers from asthma, according to doctors at the Medeor 24x7 Hospital in Dubai. Triggers vary by season and individual and the timing can be inconstant. Symptoms include episodes of breathlessness, wheezing, cough and chest tightness. “Exacerbations are a sudden flare-up of symptoms and can be very scary for the person experiencing them,” explains Dr Bassam Mahboub, Head of Allergy and Respiratory Department, Rashid Hospital, Dubai, and Head of Emirates Allergy and Respiratory Society. “In severe cases exacerbations can even be life-threatening.”  

In a study conducted by Dr Mahboub, two thirds of asthmatics surveyed experienced acute episodes of asthma during the previous 12 months. Forty per cent of respondents had such attacks at least twice a year, while 11 per cent of children and 3 per cent of adults had to be hospitalised due to the episodes.


“The trend we’ve noticed from the callers who have contacted us for medical assistance is that for respiratory illnesses we have an 80 per cent telecare rate — which means that 80 per cent of the cases with complaints of breathing difficulties were resolved over the phone, without the patients needing to leave their homes,” says Dr Sameera Al Obaidli, Lead Physician at Abu Dhabi Telemedicine Centre. “Some 10 per cent of those cases were asthma cases.”

Dr Sameera explains that asthmatics or parents of asthmatic children frequently need advice on nebulization dosage and duration. The centre frequently receives questions on using a nebulizer, or inhaler, which converts medication from liquid to mist for easy inhalation.

People who suffer from the condition have inflamed airways that are sensitive to certain environmental triggers that don’t affect others. Identifying these and managing them is a prerequisite for living with asthma. “It’s important to work with your health-care providers to recognise the elements that trigger your allergies and determine the best treatments to enjoy your life unencumbered by seasonal nasal allergies,” says Cary Sennett, President and CEO of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) in its 2016 Spring Allergy Capitals Report. AAFA is the oldest and largest non-profit patient organisation dedicated to improving the quality of life of asthmatics around the world.

Tough to spot triggers

Asthma symptoms may not always occur right after exposure, so isolating causation may require a bit of trial and error. Additionally, some triggers may be more pernicious, even at lower exposure rates — it’s not necessarily a linear response.

But generally, the main triggers for asthma are well known. For instance, the Abu Dhabi Telemedicine Centre receives more cases of asthma during spring and autumn as seasonal changes, with their corresponding significant changes in temperature and humidity, trigger a wave of asthma attacks. 

Moreover, our reliance on air conditioning in the region is problematic for asthma sufferers. “Dust and mould accumulated in the air conditioner can make an asthmatic feel itchiness in the throat and can make breathing difficult,” says Dr Sameera. “Regularly cleaning the air conditioner can help in preventing attacks.” 

Another trigger, dust, is unfortunately in large supply in the UAE due to the desert environment and the sandstorms that frequently occur. “Due to its occurrence multiple times in the year in the country, sandstorms and dust accumulation in the air are some of the main reasons for triggering symptoms,” she says. 

“People prone to asthma must always carry their inhalers and wear a medical mask to avoid being affected. Dust can initiate irritation in the throat, which asthmatic patients can experience as wheezing and breathing difficulties.” 

Asthma is also exacerbated by several exceedingly common triggers, including dust mites, pollen, mould, fragrances, dairy products and food allergies. Other factors include vitamin D deficiency, flu and even sleep deprivation. Air pollution and the presence of car emissions in the atmosphere may also worsen symptoms and set off flare-ups. 

“The most important thing for patients suffering from asthma symptoms is avoiding the allergens triggering the attacks,” says Dr Sameera. “We take the patients’ full medical history in order to determine the causes and predisposing factors so we can provide medical advice specific to their health.”

Dr Sameera explains that when contracted during childhood, asthma is typically resolved by adulthood. However, the condition developed during adulthood may be a lifelong challenge. To meet it, chronic asthmatics can combine medication and lifestyle changes to master the disease as best as possible. 

“We always encourage our patients or parents of very young patients to call us for asthma and respiratory concerns,” she says. Calling Abu Dhabi Telemedicine Centre can even help avoid exposure to triggers. “We can provide medical advice on nebulization over the phone, so they do not need to leave the house during dusty weather conditions.”