It’s estimated that some 400 million people around the world suffer from nasal allergies, and a recent, first-of-its-kind study across five countries in the Middle East has discovered that around 10 per cent of the region’s population are affected. Conducted in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Iran and the UAE, the ‘Allergies in the Middle East’ survey has brought to light some interesting information.
As well as justifying the local preoccupation with furnishing every available surface with boxes of tissues (dashboards, desks, supermarket checkouts…), on a more serious note it claims allergies to particles such as pollen and dust can reduce productivity at work by as much as 27 percent. In a city as office-oriented as Doha, such figures are cause for concern.
According to 60-year-old Egyptian physician Dr Soliman Alaa, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Welcare Hospital in the UAE, the region has been waiting a long time for some reliable statistics, but they haven’t been good news. ‘Incidence of allergies is increasing, not only in the [GCC], but all over the world,’ he explains, ‘We had no definite percentage before – we’d been depending on studies coming from the West and America. Nothing had been done professionally here until now.’
He believes lifestyle factors are to blame for the rise in allergies, thanks mainly to our increasingly urbanised environments, reliance on artificial preservatives in food and a penchant for treating every ailment, however small, with hardcore prescription medication.
‘The way of life has changed. In the past people were more dependent on natural things, but nowadays there are far more artificial materials in our food, our clothes and our environment, with things such as air-conditioning. All these are factors.’
There doesn’t appear to be any particular race, nationality or gender that’s more susceptible to allergies, though Dr Soliman admits he and many of his peers had thought there might be at one point. However, there’s an interesting divide in terms of income, proving money can’t buy you a steely immune system.
‘You see a higher incidence of allergy in upper-class people over those from a lower class,’ Dr Soliman reveals. ‘[I believe] this is because when a child from a lower-class, lower-income family gets a cold, small fever or an infection, they aren’t rushed to the doctor for medicine. People in the upper classes tend to run to the doctor for antibiotics the minute they have a little fever, and that negatively affects the immune system.’
So what can be done? Unfortunately, no cure for allergies currently exists. Instead, products such as antihistamine tablets and nasal sprays can alleviate the symptoms and help to ease discomfort. For adults suffering from allergies in Qatar (or anywhere in the world), the only advice Dr Soliman can offer is to try to avoid the triggers, which in these parts tend to be household dust, air conditioning, cats, dogs and plants. Regular maintenance of your A/C may also help, as dirty filters may be the cause of some irritation.
Children, particularly those not yet born or conceived, have a better chance to avoid developing a nasal allergy. ‘A study recently claimed that if you leave your children during their first two years of life to be faced with normal infections, common colds, small fevers and so on, and you don’t overprotect or medicate them, they will have stronger immune systems and will be less likely to develop allergies.’ If you’re yet to have a child, Dr Soliman suggests trying to plan the birth to avoid coinciding with allergy season, which he notes is between April and July. This is particularly important in Europe, where hayfever is common, though it’s not such a big concern if you’re planning to remain in the Middle East.
If you’re an adult afflicted with nasal allergies, the best you can do is to stock up on antihistamines, avoid standing in the firing line of the A/C and refrain from rubbing your face in plants or animal fur, should those be the causes. Failing that, at least you’re safe in the knowledge that in Qatar, you’re never far from a box of tissues.