Hospitals are spending millions of dirhams a year on care for asthmatic patients who do not take their preventive medication as prescribed by their doctors.
Around one in six people living in the UAE have asthma but doctors say only 15 per cent of patients are taking their medication properly.
Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease that can make it difficult to breathe. Airborne irritants can trigger an attack that leads to the inflammation of the air passages, reducing the amount the air a person can breathe in.
Between eight and 12 per cent of the UAE population suffer from bronchial asthma alone, a variation of the disease that leads to an increased production of mucus, according to Dr Ashraf Al Zaabi, head of the respiratory division of Zayed Military Hospital.
Despite this, patients are failing to take their preventive medicine as prescribed, which is the “biggest challenge” to asthma doctors.
“We believe an asthmatic should not have chest tightness or need to use rescue medication more than twice a week. Patients should not wake up at night (because of symptoms) more than once a month.
“Yet many patients take their rescue medication more than three or four times in a single day and think they are fine. They are not fine.
There are two types of medication typically prescribed for asthma sufferers – a rescue medication that provides instant relief and should be taken only when the patient feels they need it and a preventive medication that provides long-term relief and should be taken regularly.
Dr Al Zaabi said that, worldwide, only 15 per cent of suffers use the preventive inhaler because they don’t feel any immediate benefit, but if they were to take it regularly they would find that they would not need the rescue medication.
Recent changes to medical guidelines state that no doctor should prescribe a rescue inhaler without also prescribing a preventive one.
Failing to use this medication, the doctor said, is what leads to visits to the emergency department and costs the government and healthcare providers a lot of money.
In 2012, Dh105 million was spent on asthma patients in Abu Dhabi alone, with Dh85m spent in Dubai the following year – this was as much as was spent on hypertension and stroke patients.