x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Greening the UAE blamed for leap in hay fever

While beautification projects are providing more parks, gardens and grassy areas to enjoy, they could be giving residents hay fever.

ABU DHABI // The good news is that UAE beautification projects are providing more parks, gardens and grassy areas to enjoy. The bad news is they could be making residents ill. A study, the first of its kind in the country, shows more than a third of adults in Al Ain suffer from hay fever, making the pollen-linked condition far more common than would be expected in a predominantly desert environment.

Experts blame an increase in green landscaping in cities and towns over the past 10 years. Hay fever in Dubai and Abu Dhabi could be even more common because of high levels of pollution and dust, said Dr Shirina Alsowaidi, an assistant professor of allergy and immunology in internal medicine at UAE University in Al Ain, who led the research. "Such massive environmental changes may have had a huge adverse impact on the prevalence of allergic diseases, with the introduction of thousands of new plants and trees that were never seen in the UAE until a decade ago," Dr Alsowaidi said.

"The findings can be used as an indicator of the overall prevalence of allergic rhinitis across the UAE." Allergic rhinitis is an inflammation of the nose causing nasal blockage, sneezing, a runny nose and irritation. The most common type is hay fever, which is caused by the pollen of certain types of plants. The research, published in the February edition of the journal Allergy, found more than a third of 6,543 respondents suffered from allergic rhinitis. More than seven out of 10 of those said it interfered with their daily activities and a third said they suffered from symptoms for more than three months of the year. The symptoms were most severe in the spring.

Airborne particles that attack sinuses and produce allergic reactions can come not only from major public parks, but also trees bordering roads, flowers planted in medians and hectares of new grass. In Abu Dhabi, the municipality has announced plans for 12 new parks, and Dubai is also greening up. Last year, 27 million plants were added as part of a plan to increase park space by four per cent. The new study is the country's inaugural research on allergies in adults. However, in 1994, a study found that allergens affect more than one in five children in the country. Doctors across the country have been noticing an increase in the number of patients being diagnosed with the problem.

Dr Bassam Mahboub, an associate professor on the medical faculty at the University of Sharjah, said: "Numbers are definitely going up, and we know that there are more allergies in Al Ain than in the other cities." However, he cautioned that exposure to plants is not the only cause of allergic rhinitis. There are also genetic components that put the Arabic population more at risk. "If you have the symptoms of the common cold most of the time, then this is most likely allergic rhinitis. If you sneeze with an itchy nose or face, then this is most likely allergic rhinitis."

Although it is not as dangerous as other diseases, Dr Mahboub said studies show it can be as damaging to a person's quality of life as diabetes or high cholesterol. amcmeans@thenational.ae