Understanding the link between humidity and asthma

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Stepping outside for even a few minutes can leave you feeling sticky, while your clothes often seem to be instantly soaked through. But beyond the need for extra hydration and increased laundry bills, the UAE’s legendary humidity brings with it several health concerns.

Those suffering from asthma and frequent allergies are often the worst hit. Hot and humid weather, particularly when the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere crosses 50 per cent, has been linked to increased asthma attacks.

Researchers at the University of Kentucky Medical Center have shown how when patients breathed air that was controlled for temperature and humidity levels, asthmatics faced greater airway resistance than non-asthmatics, while hotter and damper air led to a greater frequency of coughing attacks.

In a separate study of more than 25,000 asthma-related clinic visits, analysts at Children’s Hospital of Michigan found that a simple 10% increase in humidity was linked to one extra emergency visit at the clinic, and a 10-degree ascent in temperature brought about two extra asthma visits.

Those findings help explain why asthmatics in the UAE often have such a hard time in the muggy summers. Humidity over the coming weeks is expected to touch 80% in the country’s coastal areas, even as the hazy conditions are set to continue.

Atmospheric moistness levels over 60% offer the perfect breeding ground for mould and dust mites, some of the most typical asthma triggers. Air pollution also increases with a rise in humidity, and ozone molecules, with their detrimental effect on lower lung function, are a particular concern.

However, another major contributor is the temptation to stay indoors at a time the mercury touches its annuals highs. Not only can air-conditioning units harbour up to 1,000 dust mites and 250,000 allergenic dust mite faecal pellets, triggering respiratory allergies, but indoor air is up to five times more polluted than outdoor air, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Most people around the world spend 90% of their time indoors and must therefore remain alert to the quality of the air they are breathing.

Indoor air pollution is caused by everyday activities such as cooking, use of cleaning and hair products, air fresheners, candles, open fires and smoking. In addition, outdoor air enters homes and workplaces through ventilation. Exposure to indoor air pollution can lead to a wide range of diseases including acute and chronic respiratory conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pneumonia, lung cancer, ischemic heart disease, stroke and cataract. Polluted indoor air can also trigger asthma and allergies.

Besides seeking medical advice, a number of precautionary measures can help improve indoor air quality and with it, allow asthmatics to breathe easier. These include:

  1. Open the window – your indoor air is on average five times more polluted than the outside air.
  2. Vacuum frequently and regularly wash beddings and other textiles.
  3. Reduce or remove carpets, which trap unhealthy particles such as dirt, fungi and dust mites.
  4. Avoid unnecessary chemicals – use natural cleaning products instead.
  5. Cut down on the use of perfume and hair spray.
  6. Invest in plants – according to NASA, English ivy and Peace lily best eliminate household pollutants.
  7. Put a certified asthma-approved air purifier in the rooms, where you spend most of your time.

The World Health Association (WHO) considers air pollution to be the single biggest environmental risk to human health with 9 out of 10 people in the world breathing polluted air. However, with a few preventive measures, asthmatics don’t need to be limited by the summer’s extreme temperatures and high humidity.

 

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