Humidity and dust blamed for rise in respiratory problems, UAE doctors say

Clinics report half of daily cases involve chest infections such as bronchitis

Experts said dusty, humid weather can cause breathing problems at this time of year, particularly for children and asthmatics. Getty
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An increase in the number of chest infections this summer has been blamed on environment changes with hot, dusty air mixing with humid conditions, UAE doctors have said.

Exposure to poor air quality and an increase in vaping are also having an effect on the number of people being treated for respiratory conditions in clinics.

Some hospitals reported a surge in case numbers during recent weeks as the dusty, humid conditions caused misery for those with chronic respiratory problems and allergies.

Almost half of patients seen by doctors at Bareen International Hospital in Abu Dhabi reported some kind of respiratory condition, with bronchitis a common complaint.

Most of the bronchitis we are seeing now is related to the environment rather than a virus
Dr Hardik Patel, NMC Royal Hospital Dubai

"We are seeing lots of patients with chest infections like bronchitis, and other kinds of problems," said Dr Ahmed Raza, an internal medicine specialist at Bareen International Hospital.

"They are not coming from a background of influenza. They have had a cough for two weeks or more, which is unusual," he said.

Dr Raza said that dusty, humid weather can cause issues this time of year, especially for children and asthmatics.

"Last week we saw an increase in these patients. Out of 30 patients in a day, almost half were coming to us with these respiratory problems, so it is a pattern," he said.

"We would expect to see this number of patients during the winter, which makes it unusual during the summer."

Health campaign

As temperatures creep up to nearly 50°C, and humidity up to 100 per cent at times, recent respiratory cases have worsened, doctors said.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention has launched a campaign to ensure safe working conditions are in place for those employed outdoors during the summer.

The campaign will make tours to construction sites and provide awareness lectures to impart health information during the intense seasonal heat.

Bronchitis is inflammation of the airways that lead to the lungs and it can be triggered by environmental factors.

It is usually caused by a viral infection but can also be the result of an allergic reaction to something inhaled, causing airways to swell and fill with mucus.

The condition usually manifests as a persistent cough, and wheezing or rattling sounds when breathing.

"Most cases of bronchitis are caused by viruses during winter, but at this time of year we are seeing more cases related to allergies as well as viral infections," said Dr Trilok Chand, consultant and head of the department of respiratory medicine at Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi.

"We are currently seeing more acute bronchitis cases resulting from the change in the weather. It is something we would usually expect to see during the winter."

Dr Chand said that 90 per cent of cases during winter result from viral infections. While cases in the summer are usually related to allergies.

"In younger and older people, it can develop into pneumonia – usually if their symptoms are persistent and do not clear up after 7 to 10 days or so," he added.

Pneumonia risk

While most cases of bronchitis can be treated with an anti-inflammatory inhaler, antibiotics are generally used only once a viral infection has been detected.

If left untreated, severe cases can develop into pneumonia, with young children, the elderly and those with existing lung conditions, more vulnerable.

The condition inflames the lungs and can be serious, leading to hospital admission in some cases and can take months from which to recover.

“We are seeing a lot of chest infections at the moment, which is surprising as it’s not something we would expect at this time of year,” said Dr Hardik Patel, a pulmonologist at NMC Royal Hospital, Dubai Investments Park.

“It is likely a result of the increasing humidity outside, and people moving from a hot environment to an air-conditioned one inside.

“If someone has a pre-existing condition, if they vape or smoke, then it can make someone more vulnerable to these kinds of respiratory problems.

“Most of the bronchitis we are seeing now is related to the environment rather than a virus.

“It can stay in the body for a long time, and increased vaping is certainly contributing.

“If people share a vaping device or do not clean out their air-conditioning units regularly at home, then these conditions can become more common.”

Updated: July 14, 2023, 5:41 AM