Sandstorm causes spike in patient numbers at UAE hospitals

Hospital emergency departments said they are prepared to deal with the anticipated extra demand from residents affected by the sandstorms.

Office workers cover their noses and mouths during the sandstorm in Abu Dhabi. Delores Johnson / The National
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ABU DHABI // Sandstorms that blanketed the country on Thursday have been blamed for a rise in the number of patients admitted to hospitals.

Dr Lalu Chacko, medical director of LLH Hospital in Abu Dhabi, said extra staff had been put on duty to cope with the expected influx of patients suffering with asthma attacks, as well as the expected victims of car crashes caused by the poor visibility.

“Whenever we get weather like this we keep our staff on alert,” he said. “We have already arranged for more staff.

“When you get a sandstorm like this you expect the department to be flooded with patients with allergies. It affects everyone across the spectrum from young children to the elderly with allergy problems such as asthma.”

Exposure to a sandstorm can trigger acute attacks among sufferers of asthma, a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways which causes coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and tiredness.

“The problem with existing asthma they have to be very, very careful because they can have a serious attack,” said Dr Chacko.

“When they walk around, they should be using a mask and always keep an inhaler with them.

“It is a vicious cycle. If you are walking along the road you are breathing in this air and then your air passage gets dry and when it gets dry you are more prone to infection such as tonsillitis.

“Everyone should make sure when they walk around that they use some kind of protection even if it is just a clean handkerchief. It will go a long way in preventing you from inhaling dust.”

The dust storms also bring an expected rise in the number of car crash victims due to motorists failing to heed warning about reduced visibility, said Dr Chacko.

“The weather is not just a health risk. It is a community risk,” he said. “When I was driving first thing, I could barely see the car in front.

“But what is sad is I see people – young people – who think it is fun to drive fast.”

Dr Ashok Kumar Raina, a specialist in respiratory medicine at Abu Dhabi’s Al Noor Hospital Khalifa Street branch, said extra staff had been drafted in – especially in the hospital’s emergency department.

“We are seeing a lot of patients, particularly those with asthma, already,” he said. “You always have those who have worsening of respiratory problems.

“These are really fine particles. It penetrates the lungs and it really causes a lot of problems.”

In addiction to affecting asthmatic, such weather causes problems with smokers and those with obstructive lung disease, he said.

Dr Ahed Bisharat, a consultant paediatrician at Abu Dhabi’s Healthpoint, said he had already seen a spike in cases from young patients suffering with allergies and respiratory problems.

“We have many, many kids,” he said. “Even kids who have no previous history of asthma. And we are expecting more and more kids to come.”

Dusty weather can cause allergic rhinitis – when sand, pollen and dust are inhaled through the nose. Symptoms are similar to the common cold, including a runny nose and sneezing.

Dr Bisharat would advise the general public, especially those with underlying respiratory problems or allergies, to avoid venturing outside.

“In general all should be staying at home, especially the kids, unless it is very urgent,” he said.

However those who have difficulty breathing should go immediately go to their nearest hospital, he said.

Dr Biniam Tesfayohannes, the chairman of accident and emergency services at Mafraq Hospital, urged motorists to take extra precautions on the roads to avoid unnecessary pressures on accident and emergency departments.

“The general advice is the same as in poor weather conditions,” he said. If a journey can be avoided then avoid it.

“If not, set off early do not speed have your lights on and fog lights on if possible.”

Motorists also need to be careful about who may be out and about on the country’s roads.

“For people working outdoors the high risk is getting hit by vehicles who will not notice a pedestrian,” said Dr Tesfayohannes.