x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Sufferer finds relief with steroid puffer

Ms Fell is among roughly 900,000 asthmatics living in the UAE and learnt that her asthma was aggravated by the local humidity, smoke, dust and air-conditioning.

ABU DHABI // Until a new job in a new climate brought Stacey Fell to Dubai in 2005, the Briton thought little about her asthma. There was the occasional bout of breathlessness during the summer in the UK, when her hay fever flared up. But in the UAE, her respiratory ailment was worse than ever. Ms Fell, 29, saw several doctors after a persistent cough developed. She had chest X-rays as well as tests for allergies.

Eventually, she learnt that her asthma was aggravated by the local humidity, smoke, dust and air-conditioning. "I noticed it was progressively getting worse," said Ms Fell, who works in a bank. "There was a tightness in the chest and a feeling of compression." Diagnosed when she was 13, Ms Fell is among roughly 900,000 asthmatics living in the UAE. About 15 per cent of the population here is believed to have the condition one of the highest rates in the world.

The World Health Organisation has warned that the prevalence of the lung disease is increasing worldwide by 50 per cent every decade, mainly affecting children. It now afflicts 300 million people and may worsen due to pollution and climate change. Asthmatics in the UAE may suffer more than in other countries, according to specialists, who say the humid climate and construction dust aggravate symptoms.

"I have a lot of my patients who are absolutely fine when they're outside the UAE," said Dr Bassam Mahboub, a pulmonologist and member of the Emirates Respiratory Society. "Once they come here, they start coughing and get the symptoms." Another respiratory specialist in the capital, Dr Zouhair Harb, said asthmatics now dominate his practice, accounting for "65 to 75 per cent" of his patients. For general practitioners in the US, the figure is about 20 per cent.

Ms Fell's condition deteriorated so much that she sought out a chest specialist last week. Previously, Ms Fell relied only on a Ventolin "rescue" inhaler during an asthma attack. Her doctor later prescribed a Symbicort inhaler that includes a dose of steroids to reduce inflammation in her airways, preventing symptoms. "Now the routine I'm on at the moment, in the morning I'll take two puffs of Symbicort, at lunchtime I'll take two puffs of the Ventolin, and in the evening I take two puffs again of Symbicort."

The inhaled steroids have made a difference for Ms Fell, but a recent study showed that only 5.5 per cent of asthmatics in the UAE used preventive therapies. Dr Mahboub, who helped author the study, advised asthmatics to follow Ms Fell's lead. "We need all asthmatics to be on controlled medications," he said. @Email:mkwong@thenational.ae