ABU DHABI // A spate of sandstorms may have led to a rise in respiratory illnesses such as asthma, a leading doctor said yesterday.
"It is very reasonable to assume that there is a direct correlation between the frequency of sand/dust storms with elevated reported cases of asthma and other respiratory conditions," said Dr Jens Thomsen, section head of Occupational and Environmental Health at the Health Authority Abu Dhabi.
At Saqr Hospital in Ras Al Khaimah, where the ER department treats between 20 and 30 children with asthma every week, the number tripled over the winter months, said Dr Yousef Altair, the head of ER.
The doctors spoke as the results of a survey published to mark World Asthma Day today suggested almost 13 per cent of adults are asthmatic. Of 1,225 people tested nationwide, one in eight adults aged between 20 and 44 suffered from the disease. Two-thirds of the group were male, and Emiratis accounted for a fifth.
Dr Bassam Mahboub, vice president of the Emirates Respiratory Society and head of pulmonary medicine at Rashid Hospital in Dubai, said the figure would have been higher if the very young and the very old had been included.
"It is expected. The only different thing about this study is that this is the first time we have done a nationwide study, among all ages and all nationalities," he said.
Although participants were aged between 8 and 80, the prevalence rate was calculated only for the middle age group.
Participants were asked a range of questions, including whether they felt a wheeze in the chest after having a cold, to what other conditions they may have that are associated with asthma.
The UAE lies "in the middle" when it comes to worldwide ranking, Dr Mahboub said.
"The prevalence of asthma worldwide goes from 5 per cent all the way to 20 per cent, so we are in the middle.
"But if you combine the excluded participants, the prevalence will be more, because we know the prevalence of asthma among children is higher."
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 1 in 15 US citizens has asthma, resulting in 11 deaths every day. The morbidity rate for the UAE was not considered for the study, said Dr Mahboub.
A chronic inflammatory disease of the airways which causes coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and tiredness, asthma is a big problem in the UAE, said Dr Anwar Sallam, deputy medical director at Mafraq Hospital in Al Ain.
"Unfortunately, there are many doctors who call any person who shows up with some wheezing or a cough as asthmatic, without doing any further tests or investigations to make sure they are asthmatic," he said
Contributing factors include the weather, smoking and consanguinity. Asthma can also be hereditary. Dust mites, exercise and allergies to animals can also trigger asthma.
The study, which was carried out between January and March 2010, was conducted by the Emirates Respiratory Society and the biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca Gulf.
A previous study carried out by Dr Mahboub also revealed that less than half of asthmatics were treated correctly.
"We are gathering information on how much it costs to treat asthma. Currently, it seems to be a lot of the costs are for unnecessary visits to the ER or the doctor." This is partly owing to patients not using their medication properly, he said.