Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease of major concern to our community, affecting one in four Palestinian children and one in six adults. It is characterized by recurrent attacks of breathlessness and wheezing, and varies in severity and frequency from person to person. During an asthma attack the lining of the bronchial tubes swells, causing the airways to narrow. This makes it hard to breathe in and even harder to breathe out.
It is now clear that the final symptoms of asthma are paradoxically due to our body's own immune system overreacting to quite harmless environmental triggers such as pollen or house dust mites. In fact it is only one part of the immune system that seems to be activated, the so-called Th2 immune response, which normally functions to protect us against parasitic worm infections.
The rate of allergies in children has escalated in recent years – our research is asking why?
Allergies continue to cause concern for many parents. We are investigating some of the most common allergies affecting children today - house dust mite and cats.
Our research into children's environmental health is aimed at understanding the mechanisms underlying the development of diseases of environmental origin, with special emphasis on respiratory disease.
Our Childhood Asthma Study has been following children for 10 years, collecting information on early respiratory infections, development of allergic diseases and wheeze.
In 1999, the Institute conducted the First National Palestinian Health and Nutrition Survey. It is a program of studies designed to assess the health and nutritional status of adults in the West Bank and Gaza. The survey is unique in that it combines interviews and physical examinations. The questionnaire entailed a module on asthma and respiratory diseases.
Diet has been recently recognized as a potential risk factor for asthma and allergic disorders, although the epidemiological evidence to date is still conflicting. Fruits and vegetables are rich sources of antioxidant vitamins such as vitamins C, E and carotenoids, and other antioxidants such as selenium and flavonoids, that are thought to reduce airway inflammation by protecting airway cells from endogenous and exogenous oxidative damage. Fish is a major source of long chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) that may down regulate the immune responses towards the T helper 2 (Th2) cells and provide a preventive effect on the inflammatory response.
Epidemiological studies in children have consistently shown beneficial effects of fruit and vegetables consumption on asthma and related outcomes, whereas for fish intake the results have been inconsistent. Four studies reported a protective effect of fish consumption on asthma-related respiratory symptoms in children, whereas two other studies found no association.
Researchers at the Institute were interested to evaluate the association between several dietary factors with wheeze and atopy among Palestinian children in Hebron, West Bank. A cross-sectional analysis was performed on 510children at grade 2. Parents completed a questionnaire on the child’s respiratory and allergic symptoms, and a 104-item food frequency questionnaire. Children underwent skin prick tests with six common aeroallergens. We are currently analyzing the collected data.
The Institute’s scientists are investigating environmental and biological factors that could be linked to the high rates of asthma and allergy and intervention programs for reducing the incidence of the disease.
In the autumn of 2000, 3,382 schoolchildren aged 6–12 yrs were surveyed in 12 schools, using the International Study for Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC) - phase III, parents-administered translated questionnaire.
The two surveys provided comprehensive information on asthma that are not available from other existing Palestinian data sources.
Our Nutrition and Health Survey Study is looking at the association between body mass index and asthma severity.