We Four in Egypt

Now back in the US!

Young lungs

This spring we met a family here in Cairo who has been here since last summer, the same as us. They have a young baby who was born in the US but has lived here most of his life. Just recently, on their annual leave back the States, their American pediatrician confirmed what the parents had suspected: their baby has asthma, clearly exacerbated (if not caused) by Cairo’s polluted air.

The baby is now on hardcore steroids while they try to get his breathing under control and while they’re back in Cairo. For folks who don’t know–steroids can stunt a child’s growth, so my understanding is that they’re only prescribed to children in extreme situations.

The family was expecting to stay here another year, but their employer won’t allow them to, given the baby’s health concerns. The problem is two-fold: first, being here makes the baby’s asthma worse, and, second, the medical care here is such that the employer isn’t confident the baby can be treated locally in an emergency. Basically, Cairo makes the asthma worse, and the health care system isn’t up to par.

So, the mom and two kids are being moved back to the States while the dad is sent to a pretty awful place (like, what’s the last place in the world you’d want to live right now? bingo!) for the next year. They don’t have much choice or maybe any choice.

I’m sad to see this nice family leave and even sadder given the circumstances.

It also has me, a hypochondriac on behalf of my children, even more concerned about the poor air quality here (and I don’t mean LA bad; think Beijing bad). Bug had a really rotten cough for a long time this winter, which finally cleared up during the week we spent in Dahab. But now his cough is back, with hardly any cold symptoms. It’s just… a cough. A really bad cough.

There’s a scientifically established link between pollution and asthma. How long can we stay here before the kids suffer permanent lung damage? Our lifestyle here isn’t worth sacrificing the boys’ health.

This is a great question to bring to a a doctor, but we haven’t really established a relationship with a pediatrician here. My employer has a clinic for routine stuff, but I wouldn’t bring my kids to them for something unless it was urgent.

So I’m tempted to schedule an appointment with a doctor in the US, either our old pediatrician or perhaps a specialist… are there pulmonary pediatricians? Fortunately, College Town has a vast array of medical facilities so I can probably find someone.

I’m not sure exactly what I’d ask, but I think it’d go something like this: Doc, can my kid make it through several more months in Cairo without compromising his long term health?

And how about you readers? What would you do?


26 May 2008 - Posted by | bug, our life in egypt, sicknesses


  1. I think this is one of those things I wouldn’t really worry about unless or until it became an issue. It’s true the air is not great here, but it is not as bad in your neighborhood as, say, closer to downtown. I’m not sure it’s much worse than any other developing world city, and it’s better than it was 10 years ago — when gasoline was still leaded, for example.

    But there are other health trade-offs here as well. For example, we eat much much less processed food here. Almost everything is fresh. And we eat much healthier as a result. Of course, who knows about pesticides, etc. But anyway, my point is just there are always tradeoffs, and I wouldn’t be too worried if there are no apparent problems. But by all means ask your doctor if it makes you feel better!

    Comment by cindy | 26 May 2008

  2. Oh that is a difficult situation. On the other hand, my husband’s asthma has improved dramatically since leaving Sydney (can you find a cleaner city)and Miss 6 had excema that has completely disappeared since our arrival here. I too worry about the long term health issues from the pollution.

    With both our children (we also have a 20 year old) we have a dr in Germany that keeps a file – we give him a visit each year just to keep an eye on their development, that makes me feel a little happier. He managed to pick up something with Miss 20, many years ago, that would have been missed living as an expat.

    Sounds like lots of visits to the beach are in order?

    Comment by lynda | 27 May 2008

  3. Lynda, that’s interesting about your family’s health issues. It’s good to remember that there are pollutants and allergens everywhere… and I also like your suggestion of having a long-term relationship with a ped during annual leaves. Hmm. We have a ped we all like in the US, and she saw both boys while we were there, so maybe we should stop in to see her this summer.

    Cindy, you are right: the produce here is great! Fresh and delicious, and it is best not to think too much about the pesticides. We did have good produce in our area in the States though, from a regular Saturday farmer’s market and our organic market. Also, the baby that got asthma lives in our neighborhood, not downtown… and I think the air is really polluted here, just more cement factory wastes and not so much car pollution.

    I think my concern is that by the time there’s a problem, it might be too late to do anything about it.

    I think part of the problem is that I read Jonathan Kozol’s Death at an Early Age about kids in certain neighborhoods in New York City who have crazy high rates of asthma–and they’re the kids who live in the most polluted parts of town.

    Comment by Ms. Four | 27 May 2008

  4. UNC’s allergy and immunology clinic gives fabulous care for those of us with asthma or environmental allergies. If you want names, let me know!

    Comment by Karen | 27 May 2008

  5. Ooh, Karen, thanks for the tip!

    Comment by Ms. Four | 28 May 2008

  6. Via a very helpful email from a blog reader, I learned that lung/asthma problems can get bad, but so slowly the person doesn’t notice until they end up in the emergency room (as what happened within the emailer’s family). I also learned that any doctor should be able to do a basic evaluation.

    So, I went ahead and made an appointment for both boys to see the US pediatrician they had been to in the States.

    By the way, I think I named the wrong Kozol book. It was Savage Inequalities. Death at an Early Age was about public schools in Boston.

    Comment by Ms. Four | 28 May 2008

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