Summers in the UAE can be challenging for sufferers of airborne-allergies – with COVID-19 precautions having both a positive and negative impact depending on the allergy trigger – but there are many steps that allergy sufferers can take to manage their condition, according to a consultant in respiratory medicine at Healthpoint, a Mubadala Health partner.
Dr. Jassem Abdou, Head of the hospital’s Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine department, says: “Some of our patients who have environmental allergies – such as pollen, fungal spores and dust allergies – are experiencing some relief from wearing masks or spending less time outdoors. Avoidance of allergens – that is, those factors that trigger an immune system response resulting in allergic symptoms – is an obvious and very effective strategy for dealing with allergies.”
Dr. Abdou points to a 2020 study published in the US National Institutes of Health PubMed Central, which sought to investigate the impact of mask wearing on the symptoms of allergic rhinitis, commonly known as ‘hay fever’. The research indicated that face mask usage could reduce allergic rhinitis symptom severity in chronically affected individuals.
Dr. Abdou stresses, however, that it is important for the masks to be handled properly and, in the case of cloth masks, to be washed regularly, as allergy sufferers could pick up allergens that have attached to the mask, which could then be transferred to the eyes, nose and mouth through touch.
In contrast to this beneficial scenario, some patients who have been staying indoors and minimizing outings during the pandemic, have increased their exposure to indoor allergens, such as dust mites or pet dander.
No matter which type of airborne allergies individuals have, however, Dr Abdou has advice for managing their condition.
Outdoor allergy triggers
“If a person suspects that he or she has an allergy, the first step would be to undergo a skin-prick allergy test so we identify the allergen and work out a plan to avoid contact with the allergen(s) as far as possible,” says Dr. Abdou.
For outdoor allergens, it is best to avoid these by staying indoors as much as possible and keeping windows closed in the home, office and car.
“Air pollution can heighten allergies, and air quality is worse when heat and sunlight are combined with industrial and vehicle emissions,” says Dr. Abdou. If possible, he suggests that people avoid going outside during busy hours of the day. He also recommends washing clothes and removing shoes after being outside so as to prevent spreading allergens indoors.
Indoor allergy triggers
If the allergy triggers identified through tests are frequently found indoors, for example, dust mites, mold spores, or animal dander, Dr. Abdou recommends eliminating these through steps such as thorough cleaning.
“It is important to wash fabrics, as well as mop and vacuum household areas frequently. It is also a good idea to eliminate any unnecessary upholstered items, rugs or other fabric decor that could attract dust mites, pet dander and the like.”
He adds that it is vital to ensure that air-conditioners are cleaned and serviced regularly, while an air purifier with a good hepa filter can also help. In addition, a humidifier could also be useful. “Dry air erodes the protective layer of mucus in your sinuses, thus amplifying the irritation caused by allergens. If this is the case, we should aim to keep humidity levels indoors at around 40 percent,” Dr. Abdou advises.
For both indoor and outdoor allergens, Dr. Abdou points out that another common COVID-19 precaution, washing hands regularly, is also useful in preventing allergy attacks. “Keeping your hands clean prevents spreading allergens from your fingers to your eyes, nose and mouth,” he explains.