Air-conditioned environments and sudden changes in temperature are contributing to the high number of patients seeking treatment for cold and flu-like symptoms, doctors said.
As summer weather settles in across the UAE and air-con units are increasingly set to low temperatures, doctors have warned against suddenly moving from cool environments to the heat outside.
Walking outside into the heat of the day, which is expected to reach highs of 48°C this month, can aggravate respiratory systems, and leave people vulnerable to coughs and colds.
“People need time to acclimatise between moving from a hot environment to a cold one, and vice versa,” said Dr Ravi Arora, a family GP at NMC Specialty Hospital in Abu Dhabi.
“Because of this we see a lot of patients with cold-like symptoms at the height of summer. The temperature range can be huge, with people moving from 20°C indoors to 48°C outside.
“These fluctuations in temperatures make airways congested, and viruses love it. It is the same even in the winter months. Viruses thrive in mucus membranes, so we see patients with symptoms all year around.”
Dr Arora advises his patients to take their time moving outdoors when it is very hot, and stopping in the foyer of a building first where it is usually warmer than an air-conditioned office or living area.
Turning the air-conditioning off in your car shortly before arriving at a destination is another tip to reduce the stress on the nose and throat.
Air-conditioning can aggravate asthma, runny noses, muscular pain, flu, pharyngitis, sinusitis, colds and sore throats, doctors said.
The changing weather is known to increase respiratory infections because it causes changes to our immune system. A lack of vitamin D is also contributing to seasonal ailments such as coughs and colds.
The easiest way to top up naturally produced vitamin D is to spend time outside in sunlight.
“We’ve seen evidence that suggests the impact of very low vitamin D on increased rates of viral respiratory infections. That, in turn, is linked to lower sun exposure during non-summer months,” said Dr Yusr Jaafir, a family doctor at Medeor 24x7 International Hospital, Al Ain.
“Research shows an increase in the occurrence of flu-like illnesses and pneumonia during winter and spring mainly.
“Here in the UAE we noticed the increase in influenza viral infections in both types A and B during fall and winter seasons.”
Hospitals are expecting an increase in flu cases as a result.
“Recent studies have shown that the influenza virus specifically is greatly affected by temperature change. For example, warmer winters are usually followed by a higher incidence of flu outbreaks in the following season,” Dr Jaafir said.
“Younger children and older people are more sensitive to the change in climate related to their immunity, hence the emphasis on administering influenza vaccine to both and any person with a condition that affects their immunity.”
Anyone with allergic conditions is also more vulnerable to sudden changes in temperature, said Dr Noordin Wadhvaniya at Canadian Specialist Hospital.
“Moving from a hot to cold environment can lead to healthcare issues, especially for those who have allergic airways,” he said.
“Sudden and intensive exposure to cold can dry out the mucous lining in the nose and throat region, leading to discomfort in the chest and nose and uncomfortable breathing.
“During the colder parts of the year, we see increased cases of flu and similar viral respiratory infections.
“The number of flu cases are already on the rise in UAE.
“These viruses spread via droplets from coughing and sneezing, but precautions can be taken, like avoiding contact with others if diagnosed, drinking plenty of water and frequent hand washing.”