Asthma is a chronic condition characterized by the inflammation of the airways to the lungs. The inflammation and narrowing of the airways releases mucus which makes it extremely difficult to breathe normally and is symptomized by coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. The effects of asthma may be of varying degrees. For some people it is could be similar to an allergy, while for others it can cause life-threatening situations every time an asthma attack takes place. Being a chronic condition, asthma manifests itself at a very young age. And although it becomes easier to deal with the symptoms and triggers of asthma as one becomes older, the same thing is very difficult to do for children.
There are a variety of factors that have led to an increase in the incidence of chronic asthma in adults and children in the UAE, over the last few years. According to a study, 14% of people in the UAE suffer from asthma and its related symptoms, while 11% of children with asthma have been hospitalized due to the severity of their asthmatic condition. Unlike adults, children are more susceptible to the triggers that can cause an asthma attack, especially because they do not have the same level of awareness about these triggers. Thus the responsibility falls on the parents of asthmatic children to ensure that their children are placed in a trigger free environment, both at home and outside.
Although there are a number of triggers that can exacerbate a child’s asthma, the following triggers are specific to the conditions of the UAE.
1) Dust allergens: The rapid increase in economic development that has taken place in the UAE has resulted in a lot of construction taking place in different parts of the country. One of the primary drawbacks of having extensive construction is that there is a lot of dust released. And this in turn can be detrimental to children suffering from asthma, since the fine dust particles become deadly triggers for an asthma attack. Furthermore, the very fact that the UAE has a desert environment, implies that a fairly windy day can result in the spread of fine particles of sand. Although this might not affect healthy children, it can lead to an attack in children with a pre-existing condition of asthma. Despite keeping the windows and doors of your home tightly shut, it is still possible for dust to accumulate in the air conditioning vent. These dust particles then get released into a person’s home and can circulate endlessly within the air conditioning system.
2) Vehicular Pollution: According to the World’s Bank annual report on global environmental indicators, known as the Little Green Data Book, the UAE region has one of the highest rates of pollution in the world. As per the report, the air in the UAE contains 80 micrograms of pollutants per cubic meter. A large part of this rise in pollution can be attributed to the increasing number of cars and buses on the roads, with the number of such vehicles rising to 1.4 million as of 2014. The emissions from cars and buses include carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen, and un-burnt hydrocarbons, along with particulate matter. These emissions greatly restrict the ability of children to breathe freely and the particulate matter can cause an allergic reaction in asthmatic children, thereby resulting
in an asthma attack. Children may be exposed to vehicular pollution either on their way to or from school, or when they play outside during the evenings and weekends. This particular trigger becomes very difficult for parents to keep their children away from since that would involve completely isolating their kids and keeping them indoors all the time.
3) Second hand smoke: Second hand smoke refers to the smoke that is passively inhaled by those around whom a cigarette or any other form of tobacco is being consumed. Secondhand smoke contains various harmful chemicals including; formaldehyde (embalming fluid), cyanide, arsenic, carbon monoxide, methane, benzene (poison in cleaning solvent), nitro amines (cancer-causing compounds), cadmium (toxic metal), benzopyrene (cancer -causing substance found in gasoline and tar), aniline (poison used in dye) and polonium. These harmful chemicals can irritate the throat and wind pipe, thereby leading to throat inflammation and coughing. Children get exposed to second hand smoke through no fault of their own, but rather through the habits of their parents or guardians. With UAE having a liberal smoking policy and the cheap availability of smoking substances, the rates of smokers in the UAE is extremely high. Second hand smoke can have serious effects on the respiratory systems of children with and without asthma. However, if a child with asthma has a parent that smokes at home or around them they are far more likely to develop a more severe case of the condition over time.
Third hand smoke also plays a role in the natural progression of bronchial asthma.
These triggers serve as the primary causes for the advent of asthma in the children of UAE. In order to ensure that your child is minimally affected by these triggers, there are a few precautionary steps that you can take as parents. Ensuring that your house is always clean and free of dust is one big step in preventing a flare up of your child’s asthma. This would entail a thorough and regular cleaning of not only the floors and surfaces, but also of any item that can hold dust particles. Another preventive step that can be taken is the use of face masks during periods of smog and dust storms. Over the years, face masks have evolved to protect people and children from pollution and dust more effectively. The use of a face mask by your child does not have to be continuous and can be restricted to periods of increased pollution and heavy winds. Lastly, if you are a parent that smokes, the best course of action for your child would be to quit smoking. This would not only improve your quality of life, but will greatly help your child in suppressing the symptoms of asthma and leading a normal life. The UAE government is undertaking various progressive measures such as more eco-friendly taxis and buses and a potential ban on smoking in public places.
Dr. Mrinal Ashok Raiker
Aster Jubilee Medical Complex