COVID-19 triggering wave of secondary health complaints, say doctors

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a surge in secondary medical complications in the UAE, according to health specialists.

Doctors at Al Zahra Hospital Dubai say foot problems caused by remote working from home are common issues since the outbreak of the pandemic, while skin conditions from wearing masks has also become a recurring health complaint.

Anxiety and depression

The risk to the global population’s mental health has been well documented throughout the pandemic, and the UAE has seen its share with anxiety and depression the most common two conditions.

A lack of stability, financial loses, seclusion from family and friends, and changes in lifestyle have all affected mental health across the region, says Dr Muhammad Shafique Tahir, a consultant psychiatrist at the hospital.

Foot pain

Foot pain is also a very common condition being seen in the hospital, said Dr Ahmed Labib, a consultant orthopedic surgeon.

He said rising cases of plantar fasciosis – a disorder of the connective tissue which supports the arch of the foot – have come about “as a result of changing the type of shoes or walking habits (sedentary lifestyle or chronic use of high heels).”

“With an increased number of people working from home, and with lockdowns happening all across the world, we have seen the number of people suffering of foot ache increase,” he said.

“This is due to the fact that people have changed their shoe wearing habits, and either moved to staying barefoot or using house shoes which is very different in structure than an outside shoe.”

With many people going back to work, Dr Labib said other foot complications have occurred.

“After spending months at home, wearing their normal shoe on a daily basis, their muscles were no longer used to the everyday use of high heels, for example, which, in many cases, lead to foot pain.”

“The cases we have seen during the pandemic with this condition have been mild and rectified with exercise and massage when the fascia is tight.”

“Recognized causes of plantar fasciosis include shortening or contracture of the calf muscles and plantar fascia. This can also result from people walking on flat surfaces for prolonged periods of time.”

Dr Labib gives the same advice to any patient offered before the pandemic.

“Use comfortable shoes, and get regular amounts of intermediate exercise to keep your overall body in a healthy condition.”

Back pain and tension headaches

Desk set-ups for people working from home can cause all sorts of aches and pains, said Dr Labib.

“People started working from their couch or bedroom, which caused them severe backache or tension headaches due to their wrong posture.”

“We usually treat these patients through physiotherapy to ease up their muscle tightness and spasms.”

Fitting an appropriate desk and chair at home are essential, to help avoid visits to the doctor, he said.

Weight gain

Piling on the pounds has also become a common health complaint as lockdowns took its toll on large portions of the population. Dr Girish Juneja, Bariatric Weight Loss Surgeon said there are two reasons why people steadily became overweight.

First, decreased physical activity due to the restrictions of the pandemic – namely lockdown, closing down of gyms and parks, as well as working from home arrangements.

Secondly, people suffering with the mental health effects of the pandemic also led to a higher intake of food and calories, the doctor said.

“Many people experienced high levels of anxiety and depression which then lead many to overeating as a comfort mechanism heading to excessive eating and weight gain,” he said.

Skin Conditions

Some people with sensitive skin, and who wear masks for extend periods of time, develop mild skin rashes or dry lips as a result, said Dr Suresh Babu, the hospital’s consultant dermatologist.

However, the doctor said such skin conditions are not severe and are easily treated with topical creams that reduce irritation, and increase the moisture of the skin.

“Perioral dermatitis is a skin condition that we have seen rise with the increase wearing of face masks,” he said.

The people most susceptible to getting these kind of rashes are those predisposed to rosacea, acne, and atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema,” amongst other skin complaints.

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