Childhood asthma : a study of the prevalence of asthma among school children aged 6-13 years in the United Arab Emirates
This study showed a strong association between asthma, hay fever, and eczema in the same child. The presence of pets outdoors but not indoors appeared to be associated with an increased incidence of wheezing in children. Use of the traditional Gulf incense also appeared to be a precipitating factor for asthma in this study. There were also statistically significant relationships between asthma and exposure to dust at home from air conditioner blasts, which is consistent with studies elsewhere. Moreover, in this study, passive exposure to tobacco smoking at home did not appear to have any significant relationship with asthma. There was, however, a statistically significant relationship between asthma and exposure to pollen from indoor plants, which is also consistent with studies elsewhere. Parental asthma but not parental atopy was a significant risk factor for asthma in offspring, a finding which agrees with other studies that have shown that parental atopy may enhance the likelihood of the expression of asthma, but does not, on its own, impact as a risk factor in the same way as parental asthma. There was a statistically significant difference in the prevalence of asthma and the symptoms of asthma between different areas across the United Arab Emirates, but not for eczema or hay fever. This is most likely attributable to the impact of radically different environmental conditions on the development of allergies in two genetically homogenous populations of United Arab Emirates nationals. Asthma, wheeze, dyspnoea and nocturnal cough were more prevalent in coastal humid Dubai, compared to dry inland Al-Ain. However, there was no statistically significant difference in the prevalence of eczema and hay fever between coastal and inland areas in the United Arab Emirates. An environmental survey carried out in Dubai and Al-Ain to study the effect of air pollution among asthmatic children showed that overall air quality in both Dubai and in Al-Ain is good, except during adverse weather conditions, strong winds and dust storms, in summer time, where the level of Respirable Particulates (PM10) is occasionally high in Dubai. However, a previous study of seasonal trends in hospital admissions for asthmatic children in Dubai showed that the highest numbers of admissions for asthmatic children occurred between the months of October and February. These are the coldest months of the year in the United Arab Emirates. Therefore air pollution from dust storms was not the cause of the high prevalence of asthma in Dubai. Although the prevalence of asthma and wheezing was lower in the United Arab Emirates than in some developed countries, it was still higher than other chronic diseases. This study demonstrated that symptoms suggestive of asthma are quite common and constitute a major health problem in the United Arab Emirates. High rates of consanguineous marriage, a buoyant economy, rapid industrialization, development of the agricultural sector, an increase in the domestication of animals and dairy farms, combined with an emphasis on 'greening' the environment, may have resulted in an increase of the prevalence of asthma. World-wide trends have been in this direction. Therefore, a concentrated effort should be made to implement therapeutic and non-therapeutic programmes for the management of asthma by parents, teachers and physicians.