Itchy, watering, red? UAE doctors see increasing cases of eye allergy

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UAE has a unique set of circumstances for allergic conjunctivitis to develop

Dust, sand and mold. It all circulates in the UAE air, and the number of patients coming in on a daily basis with complaints now point to the prevalence of an allergy.

“I see more patients in summer. But what makes the UAE unique is the fact that contributing factors are here all-year long,” says doctor Imran Ansari, Specialist Ophthalmologist at Moorfield Eye Hospital Dubai.

Allergic conjunctivitis is a form of allergy that causes inflammation of the conjunctiva, or the membrane covering the white part of the eye.

This inflammation manifests in itchy, watering or red eyes, which in turn may lead to eyelid dermatitis, frequent blinking, eye sensitivity and frontal headache.

“A major contributor to the allergy in the UAE is the AC, which makes that more people are affected by the allergy in summer.

“The AC needs to be cleaned frequently and properly, because a lot of mold stays behind. For people with allergic conjunctivitis it is crucial that they maintain their AC,” said Dr. Imran.

“Other contributors are sand and dust, which are hard to avoid.””

A recent study appearing in the World Allergy Organisation Journal, published on February 12 this year, proves of a high prevalence of allergic conjunctivitis among patients with allergic rhinitis, another condition widespread in the UAE.

“Allergic conjunctivitis is a frequent comorbid condition occurring in 95 per cent of our patients with allergic rhinitis,” was stated in the research.

The surprising bend of the study is the percentage of people aware of their condition. “Only 55 per cent of patients were able to identify that they had allergic conjunctivitis based on standard screening questions,” it concluded. “Specific questioning regarding indirect symptoms increased the incidence of allergic conjunctivitis in patients with allergic rhinitis to 94.7 per cent.”

“Our study confirms patients have an under-appreciation of symptoms, even when prompted with specific questions, and the value of a therapeutic challenge. Our data suggests approximately 40 per cent of allergic rhinitis patients felt their symptoms represented as normal.

“This is significant because the presence and lack of treatment of AC contributes negatively to their quality of life,” it stated.

Although the study claims that the results correspond to other study results, the study was conducted in Australia.

Dr Imran believes that under-recognition of the condition is not really the case in the UAE.

“When people have a problem with their eyes, they are very likely to visit a general practitioner. This practitioner should identify a case of allergic conjunctivitis.

“We see about 15 patients per day with allergic conjunctivitis in our hospital,” he points out.”

According to Dr Imran, medication can salvage the symptoms but not cure it. People can avoid irritation by closing doors and windows, maintaining the AC, refrain from wearing contact lenses until a proper diagnosis is made and for children avoid playing in the sand, he advises.

Furthermore, he warns for the excessive use of steroids drops, because these drops affect the eyes. “The problem is that steroid drops are sold over the counter here. This is something of a concern.”

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