A tourist couple take cover under an umbrella near Dubai Mall amid the dust haze. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Dubai: Doctors have warned that the current spell of dusty weather in Dubai can trigger asthmatic attacks and allergic rhinitis in people who already suffer from the condition and also affect a large section of people with no previous history, with breathlessness and respiratory distress.

Dr Sandeep Pargi, pulmonologist at Aster Hospital, Mankhool, explained how the weather can act as an illness trigger for those who are already vulnerable.

One in five people in Dubai suffer from allergic rhinitis. Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

“The dust that blows contains particulate matter, which has a high content of very fine silica and sand that gets lodged into the lungs. For those who already have respiratory issues or are asthmatic, this causes the airways to react with inflammation and spasms. This triggers breathlessness and asthmatic attacks.”

Dr Pargi said the hospital has had patients coming in with complaints of breathlessness since Sunday morning.

Residents use masks to protect themselves from the dusty spell in Sharjah. Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

“There are instances of people coming in with allergic rhinitis, which is manifested with runny nose, sneezing and nasal discharge. Then we have people with history of asthma complaining of breathlessness, cough and wheezing. A third category of patients who are coming in are those who have had no previous asthma but displaying symptoms of breathing difficulties. These are either infants or geriatric patients. I had a lady who was 73 years old come in with this complaint. This condition is called hypersensitive pneumonitis.”

Dr Hussain Hattawi, allergist at Dubai Hospital, confirmed that the prevailing dusty weather is likely to aggravate allergic respiratory distress.

“One in five people in Dubai suffer from allergic rhinitis. There are patients with previous history of the condition and have specific triggers. But then are people who may have non-specific triggers. These are people who feel their airway or nose tingling with strong smells of petrol, perfume or cigarette. Such people who are not sure of a specific trigger might suddenly find their nasal mucosa inflamed and go into respiratory distress. So, it is advisable for people not to step out into dusty weather,” he advised.

A resident in Business Bay area tries to beat the haze. Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Pollen allergy

The other allergic trigger is pollen according to Dr Hattawi. “This is the time when the approaching spring season makes trees and weeds pollinate and cover the top layer of the soil with pollens. With strong dusty winds, this top layer of pollen gets airborne and remains suspended in the air causing severe pollen allergy,” he explained.

Another threat to people is the mould called ultinaria, which is not very common but is found growing among dead and rotting vegetation. Dr Hattawi explained: “After showers that leave behind damp and dead vegetation, the ultinaria mould thrives in this and, with dust storms, gets airborne and can trigger asthmatic attacks.”

Residents are therefore advised to take precautions to avoid such typical triggers and prevent the incidence of respiratory distress.

Do’s and dont’s

• Avoid stepping out in dust storms.

• If unavoidable, use a facial mask to keep out fine particles of sand and silica.

• If there is no personal history of asthma, use a saline spritz to clear the nasal passage. If one has an infection, doctors advise to take medicines and use the saline nasal wash simultaneously to wash out any build-up of infectious germs.

• Deploy effective vacuum cleaning at home and roll up carpets that might trap dust.

• Use an indoor air purifier.

• Consult a doctor if you experience any episode of wheezing or breathlessness before it gets acute.