Dirty aircon and incense blamed as UAE study finds one in ten children have asthma

Published on October 13 2021

One in ten children suffers from asthma, according to a study led by the Ministry of Health and Prevention.

The report - titled Prevalence of asthma and allergies among children in the United Arab Emirates - assessed more than 3,400 children in Dubai and the Northern Emirates.

The research, supported by AstraZeneca Gulf and Dubai's Latifa Women and Children Hospital, looked into how common allergies were among children aged 6 to 14.

It found the prevalence of asthma to be 11.9 per cent among the study group.

The results from the 3,436 children showed asthma, wheezing and hay fever were more common in younger children, while those aged 13-14 were more likely to suffer stuffy noses caused by allergies or skin rashes.

“Asthma is more likely to develop in young children when the climate changes,” said Dr Saheer Sainalabdeen, a pulmonologist at Medeor Hospital in Dubai.

“As perfumes and incense burned in the home is also more common in Emirati families, it can also have an impact on their lungs and they are also genetically more vulnerable.

“Boys are also more vulnerable to asthma than girls, and the study showed those with allergic rhinitis issues were also more likely to develop asthma.

“This is consistent to what we see in our patients.”

Asthma rates were highest overall in Ras Al Khaimah, followed by Dubai, with the lowest rates recorded in Ajman.


Parents of younger children completed the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC) survey on their behalf, while older pupils answered questions on their own.

Of the children who completed the questionnaire, 22 per cent said their father smoked tobacco, while 53 per cent said they were exposed to incense burned at home at least once a week.

Dr Sainalabdeen said temperature changes from warm to cool air, dust and sandstorms were all contributing factors towardsasthma attacks.

But screening within school populations can help with early diagnoses and effective treatments, he said.

“We ask the history of the patient, do a nasal examination, blood counts or even a lung test if the other checks are inconclusive,” said Dr Sainalabdeen.

Regular maintenance of AC units is key

“Dust mites in bedding and soft furnishings and fungus in air conditioning units are common issues in the home, so regular maintenance and cleaning can help to limit symptoms.

“We expect asthma cases to continue to increase, as air quality deteriorates and people spend more time at home.”

Asthma is the leading chronic childhood disease, with around 5.1 million children under 18 diagnosed with the condition worldwide.

The main causes are spores from air conditioning fungus, dust mites in soft furnishings, pollen, high humidity, perfumes and air pollution.

“Asthma still contributes to many deaths worldwide including many young people,” said Dr Hardik Patel, a specialist pulmonologist at NMC Royal Hospital, Dubai Investments Park.


“It is a serious global health problem affecting all age groups with increasing treatment costs and a rising burden on healthcare systems.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has created a hygiene boom, with households investing in sanitation gadgets and deep-cleaning services.

Bosses at one Dubai-based firm have seen the market transform.

Mould present in one in three home visits

In 2019, the Healthy Home sanitisation company said 12 per cent of households visited for cleaning services had at least one person living there with asthma.

The number of asthma-related call-outs climbed to 18 per cent in 2020.


The firm also said 32 per cent of all homes visited for air conditioning cleaning had signs of severe mould.

“We saw a spike last year in demand for our services as more people were spending time at home,” said the company’s co-founder, Hisham Jaber.

“Just a few months into the pandemic we saw a 37 per cent increase in asthma and respiratory related services such as mattress, furniture, and AC duct cleaning.

“We expected the surge in disinfection services that we received during lockdown, but the demand for services resulting from asthma and allergy triggers was definitely a lot more than anticipated.”