Karachi: The month of March marks the beginning spring. While winter fades away, giving way to warm sunny days, it also brings a rise in the incidence of respiratory illnesses including asthma and allergic rhinitis.
‘The citizens of Karachi and Islamabad are more vulnerable to these respiratory illnesses. Islamabad is a city where the pollen concentrations are high due to heavy presence of Paper Mulberry trees and the peak pollen season in Islamabad starts from first week of March and ends in mid April,’ said Dr Shazli Manzoor, chest specialist, Quaid Azam International Hospital, Islamabad.
It is worth mentioning that pollen are tiny grains produced by plants such as weeds, grasses and various trees for the purpose of fertilization. However, due to their lighter and smoother nature, they remain suspended in the atmosphere and cause different intensities of allergies and asthma.
He further added that in this season, asthma has a significant impact on individuals and their families, as it becomes very difficult for those suffering from it to perform daily chores under recurrent episodes of wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and coughing.
‘If a severe asthma attack is not treated promptly, it may even cause death. Relievers (inhalers) help the asthma patient do away with the symptoms such as coughing within a few minutes, as the medicine is directly administered to the lungs,’ he added.
While relievers are taken to address immediate symptoms, controller inhalers, as their name suggests, can be used as a preventive measure. These not only help reduce the incidence of asthma attacks but also to a large extent enable patients to live a normal life.
Similarly, he added, another seasonal disease linked with pollen allergies is Allergic rhinitis – which is a chronic inflammatory disorder. The disease is experienced by many patients as a broader condition also affecting the eyes, ears, sinuses and throat. This disease is not given much importance and not taken very seriously by physicians and sufferers in the country.
‘A type of allergic rhinitis is caused by plant pollen and is commonly known as hay fever or seasonal allergy. Hay fever and allergies are often hereditary,’ said experts, adding that plants that cause hay fever are trees, grasses, and weeds, whose pollen is carried by the wind.
He added that the symptoms of Allergic rhinitis that may develop later, include nasal congestion, coughing, clogged ears, decreased sense of smell, sore throat, dark circles & puffiness under the eyes, fatigue, irritability, and headache.
Dr Manzoor further added that in Pakistan, people are unaware of the symptoms and causes of allergic rhinitis and they mistake its symptoms with those of cold, flu, and sinusitis. ‘They are also unaware about the treatment options available for allergic rhinitis and most of the time they rely on self-medication,’ he added.
Nasal corticosteroid sprays are the most effective treatment for allergic rhinitis and they work best when used regularly, but they can also be helpful when used for shorter periods of time, he said, adding that corticosteroid sprays are generally safe for children and adults.