As spring arrives and progresses, Kashmir, which has more than half of its land area covered with trees and forests, witnesses a sharp increase in allergies. Doctors and experts from other fields caution against ‘myths’ and list out steps that could help reduce the afflictions.
With the fluff from poplar trees floating around in most parts of Kashmir, and with a simultaneous increase in the number of people complaining of allergies and exacerbation of Asthma, KIF delved into the possible causes and redress.
Result of 17,000 Allergy Tests
Department of Immunology at Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), Soura, is the only institute that carries out allergy tests in patients.
Head of Department of Immunology at SKIMS, Soura, Prof Zaffar Amin Shah told KIF that a scientific approach to public health concerns was the need of the hour.
He warned against ‘myths and unscientific rhetoric’ and said that allergies in Kashmir in the season between April and June were wrongly attributed to poplar trees. “Some years ago, we had a scientific panel to investigate the issue of poplar fluff and their potential to cause harm to human health. An expert team from various fields came to the conclusion that the fluff does not contain pollen and may not cause allergy. In fact, female trees produce it. As we know, pollen is produced by male trees, and is mostly invisible to the naked eye,” he said.
Talking to KIF, Professor at the Department of Immunology, SKIMS, Soura, Dr Roohi Rasool said that over the past decade, the department carried out more than 17,000 allergy tests. “Our data is quite clear. The major allergen in Kashmir is house dust mite which accounts for 90 percent of allergies,” she said.
Dr Rasool said that in the current season, like every year, various pollens together cause allergies among people. “In a vast majority, that is over 70 percent of the population, pollen from grass causes allergies. This is followed by pollen from pine species trees and Chinar trees,” she said.
Dr Rasool said that pollen from male poplar trees, not the cotton fluff from female trees, causes allergy in nearly 10 percent of people.
Avoidance and Management
Since pollen is airborne and is present in the environment at all times, it is difficult to avoid it. Yet, doctors feel, masks could reduce exposure and resulting effects.
Speaking about the poplar fluff, Head of the Department of Pulmonology at GMC, Srinagar, Dr Naveed Nazir Shah said that the public outcry was “misleading”. “They (cotton from poplars) are too big to enter alveoli and cause allergies,” he said. Alveoli are the minute air sacs in lungs where the exchange of gases, carbon dioxide and oxygen takes place.
Dr Shah blamed the dust and the ‘season of bloom’ for the rise in complaints of respiratory issues. “Every plant and tree is in bloom in this season. Just because we cannot see these particles does not mean they do not exist,” he said.
Dr Shah said that people needed to identify the allergen and talk to their doctor if their symptoms were too severe. “There are medications that can help one to avoid an allergy getting worse,” he said. Dr Shah said people with asthma could get allergy immunology profiles. “Allergies can get very severe at times. It is important to talk to a professional rather than resort to self medication,” he said.
Talking to KIF, Professor at the Pulmonology department of GMC Srinagar, Dr Khurshid Ahmed Dar said that rhinitis and asthma were linked to a number of causes. “In winters we have cold induced respiratory symptoms. In spring and summer, as the moisture in soil reduces, we have dust related complaints. In autumn, the harvest season contributes to allergy exacerbation,” he said. “Many people confuse viral flus with allergies and vice-versa. Every spring, viral flu from various strains are also on the rise, so we really don’t know much about what exactly is causing the surge in complaints.”
Dr Dar said people should avoid dust, clean their rooms and beddings regularly, and avoid smoke of all kinds including smoke from cooking. “These are the major culprits,” he said.
A study carried out by Nisar A Wani of the Department of Botany, University of Kashmir, Zafar Amin Shah of the Department of Immunology, SKIMS, and Mahrukh Hameed of the Department of Biochemistry, SKIMS titled ‘A study of the prevalence of fungal, pollen and dust allergens by intradermal skin test in nasobronchial allergenic patients’ studied 257 patients with various allergy symptoms in Kashmir. It found that apart from fungus in the air, scotch grass, Kentucky bluegrass, garden sorrel, and mulberry were major allergens.
In addition, rice grain dust, wheat grain dust, and house dust were also contributing to allergy symptoms.