If you're reading this while sneezing and rubbing your eyes, you're not the only one.

High humidity, pollen and poorly maintained air-conditioning units are causing more allergic reactions, like sneezing and coughing, during the summer, according to doctors.

A potent cocktail of contributing factors have created a miserable period for some, as more time is spent indoors during the summer.

That has left those with allergic reactions feeling the effects of pollen, poorly maintained AC units and dust mites embedded in carpets and bedding, causing runny noses, itchy eyes and even breathing difficulties.

“Grass pollen is the primary trigger of pollen allergies during the summer months, and in humid climates like the UAE, the grass pollen season can last up to several months,” said Dr Pragati Agrawal, a specialist pulmonologist at NMC Royal Hospital, Khalifa City, Abu Dhabi.

“Fine dust in the air, high humidity, along with a rise in the pollen during summer, can contribute to airway irritation, frequent sneezing and coughing — especially in susceptible individuals.

“Due to high humidity and increased use of air conditioning, it's not uncommon to see a rise in indoor allergens like mould and dust mites which can further aggravate the problem.”

Aggravating factors of a poor environment, either at work or in the home, can create havoc for those already suffering with respiratory problems like asthma or cardio pulmonary obstructive disorder.

“Being a pulmonologist I have seen a significant rise is allergic bronchitis,” said Dr Agrawal.

“Also, there has been an increase in cases of asthma flareups and worsening of other chronic respiratory condition due to these environmental triggers.

“Allergic rhinitis is a seasonal disease, and the highest incidence usually occurs during winter and spring.

“During summer, the incidence of allergic rhinitis is the lowest, and we usually see fewer allergic rhinitis patients in the clinics.”

A regional study of asthma in 2018, published in the BMC Pulmonary Medicine journal, found between 4.4 and 7.6 per cent of the Middle East population had the condition.

That figure was slightly lower than the numbers reported in Europe and North America, with prevalence of asthma in the UAE estimated to be between 2.79-8 per cent of the population.

Poor air quality a driving force

Climatic conditions, with poor air quality delivered by pollution and dust, are often worse in warmer weather.

An air quality index indicates environmental pollutants, and how safe it is for people to go outside, particularly those with chronic respiratory conditions, the elderly and young children.

An AQI green reading of 0-50 is considered safe, whereas colours from yellow, orange and red show the air is getting more polluted and can impact existing breathing problems.

A purple reading of 201-300 AQI is seen as very unhealthy, while the most dangerous rating is coloured maroon and has an ACI reading of more than 300, where outdoor exertion should be avoided.

Dr Kiran Kumar Rai, head of paediatrics at Burjeel Day Surgery Centre, Reem Island, said regular maintenance of air-conditioning units can help to reduce symptoms of poor air quality inside homes.

“The main allergies [during the summer] are caused by air conditioning, particularly in children who are spending more time indoors,” he said.

“In other parts of the world, it usually happens in spring from pollen and flowering plants.

"Here it is more likely a result of the indoor environment and also dust and sand in the air outside.

“It can be a problem when it is windy as fine particles of dust can cause an allergic response," Dr Rai said.

"People should try and stay inside at this time, or at least wear a facemask if they need to go out then.

“If there is fungal mould, particularly in the AC ducts at home or in the office, it will cause a reaction so they should be cleaned regularly.”

Hisham Jaber, co-founder of The Healthy Home, a company cleaning air-conditioning systems in the UAE said summer is typically a busy time of year.

“Most people don’t know that their home can be two to five times more polluted than outside which can have very strong impacts on their health, and trigger asthma and allergies,” he said.

“Dust particles and other debris accumulate in the AC filters over time.

“Clogged filters no longer play their role and, as a result, allow dust to enter the house.

“Cleaner filters can play an important role in reducing the allergic irritation and discomfort commonly associated with seasonal transitions.”

Updated: August 23, 2023, 11:26 AM

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