Traditional cooking wood harmful to lungs

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By Caline Malek  www.thenational.ae

Smoke from wood used in traditional Emirati cooking can be more harmful than cigarettes, researchers have found.

Abu DhabiA sample of 520 mainly Emirati patients aged from 40 to 80 showed that 33 per cent of those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) had been exposed to the smoke of tannour cooking wood, but only 24 per cent were cigarette smokers.

The disease obstructs the flow of air to and from the lungs, causing shortness of breath. By 2030 it will be the third-leading cause of death after heart disease and stroke, according to the World Health Organisation.

“There is a significant association between COPD and exposure to the smoke of tannour,” said Dr Ashraf al Zaabi, the lead researcher and head of the respiratory division at Zayed Military Hospital in Abu Dhabi.

“We found that the use of tannour in cooking is a trend in the country’s culture and about 30 per cent of the population use it, especially UAE nationals.”

The use of any biomass fuel, which is anything that can burn or decompose, can cause COPD, Dr al Zaabi said.

“The use of wood to cook, the smoke and indoor heat are factors in developing the disease, especially in women, if you consider that those who don’t smoke develop it.”

However, the research showed a low prevalence of COPD in the UAE of 3.7 per cent compared to the worldwide rate of 4 to 6 per cent, Dr al Zaabi said.

Dr Bassam Mahboub, a pulmonologist and head of the Emirates Respiratory Society, said the incidence of smoke-related health problems in the UAE was high.

“Those related to tannour usually involve the older generation, people over 60, who have been using these traditional cooking methods for the past 30 years,” he said. It is no longer a serious issue, he added.

Dr Premanadh Ak, a junior doctor in the respiratory department of Al Rashid Hospital in Dubai, said smoke from tannour contained carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and a combination of many different gases that could be harmful to the lungs.

“These problems end up being long-term if you are exposed to such smoke for a long period of time and it can seriously damage the lung itself,” he said. Traditional Emirati cooking methods should be changed, he suggested.

Dr Mahboub said he had treated Emirati, Indian and Pakistani patients who used tannour every day.

“The Emirati patients were older but the Indian and Pakistani patients were only in their late 40s or early 50s,” he said. “I prescribe bronchodilation, which opens the airways in the lungs and increases the airflow.”

The study results were released yesterday before the Gulf Thoracic Congress tomorrow in Dubai, as part of a session on COPD management.

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