Don’t let allergies get you down

From dust mites and mould to peanuts and pet hair, these are the most common allergens in Abu Dhabi and ways you can keep them at bay.

child sneezing

Many of us can relate to that itchy nose that just won’t go away, or streaming eyes and breathing difficulties as a result of dust storms and a change in the seasons.

Allergies are becoming a common part of modern life in the UAE, brought on by a move towards a more sanitised living space around us.

Children are less exposed to germs growing up, so do not always develop as strong an immunity to bugs and viruses as that of previous generations.

And as we prepare for the stifling heat of summer and months inside air-conditioned environments, that can also bring with it a host of allergic reactions.

Diet is also playing a key role, with food allergies becoming more common among millennials.

Dr Maisaa al Sulaiman, a family medicine specialist at Burjeel Hospital for Advanced Surgery, says increasing popularity of fast food has led to more food allergies: “The most common allergies in the UAE are food and dust.

“With a rise in allergies due to a change in our food habits, the best way to prevent an allergic reaction is to recognise and avoid the foods that will trigger it.”

The most common food allergies — which make up an estimated 90 percent of all allergic reactions — are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat.

Just small amounts of the ingested food can cause a severe reaction. Symptoms include rashes, hives, diarrhoea, nausea or other digestive issues. In severe cases, people can suffer anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction that causes a tightening of the throat and breathing difficulties.

“It’s important to be aware of your allergy and avoid places that might put you in contact with that particular food,” adds Dr Maisaa.

“If you’re eating packaged food, take a look at the ingredient label to make sure that it’s not made in a factory with ingredients that might cause an allergic reaction.”

Dr Babak Jamalian, a family physician at Mediclinic, adds that peanut allergies are about five times more common now than 30 years ago.

“One theory that tries to explain this phenomenon is that since children are not getting as many infections, they are more endangered to allergens,” he says.

A diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables can supply essential
vitamins needed to maintain the body’s natural immune system, helping protect against allergies.

Something in the air

In the UAE, and particularly in the summer months, high humidity is a leading culprit when it comes to allergies.

Dr Arun Arya, a pulmonologist at NMC Royal Hospital, says this humidity can worsen symptoms: “Abu Dhabi can be particularly difficult in the summer months when the humidity is high – that encourages house dust mites, which cause a reaction in asthma patients,” he says.

“Dust mites, mould, dust and cat dandruff are the biggest causes of asthma
in the home.

“Allergies are usually more pronounced in children, and often become less of a problem when the child is 15 or so, as their body adapts.

“We can find out if someone is allergic via a skin test or by taking a small blood sample. That can give us an idea of what antibodies the person has against certain allergens,” Dr Arun continues.

“Once someone knows what they are allergic to, they can take precautions as there is no cure for allergies.

“It is possible to desensitise a patient to certain allergens by slowly building up the immunity by exposing the patient, but it is a long process and not always successful.”

Taking action

Although allergies cannot be cured, they can be controlled. Bedding can be covered with dust-mite proof materials and anti-histamine medication can help control symptoms.

Common conditions like sinusitis, an inflammation of nasal passages where germs thrive, are made worse by the changing weather, dust and humidity.

A cool swim may offer welcome relief in summer, but communal pools can become breeding grounds for germs and viruses that worsen symptoms of a minor cough or cold.

Ear plugs can cut the risk of infection, and children should be kept away from swimming pools if they have been suffering with illness.

Antibacterial lotions and regular hand washing are effective ways to keep colds
and bugs that may cause allergic reactions at bay.

“We have seen a lot more allergies in the past 40 years or so,” says Dr Fadi Baladi, a medical director at the Burjeel Reem Island day surgery.

“Now we are living in more confined spaces and smaller buildings without proper ventilation. It will be like this for the next few months for many in the UAE who will be confined to an air-conditioned home, office and car because of the hot summer.”

Allergic reactions to atmospheric dust are becoming more common, and moving from the heat of outdoors to cooler air-conditioned environments can also irritate respiratory systems, worsening allergic reactions in the sinuses.

Drinking plenty of water during the day is a good way to keep nasal passages and the throat moist.

“More people are living together and keeping pets, making allergies more common,” Dr Fadi adds. “Pets shedding hair in the home or bedroom has created allergies, with puffy eyes and runny noses.

“Ventilation is very important. If you are allergic to something – whether dust, pollen or pets – then stay away. Do not let pets into the bedroom, for example.”

Humidity and major dust particles are a dangerous combination for people suffering from respiratory diseases, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). 

Those with a weak immune system, pregnant women, children and the elderly are also at risk, and dust and humidity can lead to a worsening of their symptoms or an infection.

Solutions to allergic reactions to dust, and the tiny mites that feed on it, can be found via specialist cleaning firms that can remove bacteria, mould, fungi and virus infected areas such as your mattress or soft furnishings in your bedroom, living room and even the children’s play area. You should also have your AC vents cleaned regularly and consider using an indoor purification system or dehumidifier to keep allergens at bay. 

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