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PostSubject: Allergies in Kashmir   Mon May 18, 2009 11:36 pm

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Pollen allergy engulfs valley

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Government Mulls Genetic Modification Of Poplars

ARIF SHAFI WANI


Srinagar, May 17: Prevalence of pollen allergy in Kashmir has been a perennial irritant for the people, affecting a large number of them, including children. Experts ascribe the phenomenon to the increase in cultivation of Russian poplars which are being grown on a large scale particularly because its wood constitutes the key component of shook making required for the valley’s vital fruit industry.
While the government is mulling the genetic modification of the poplars, experts have urged the people to take precautions to minimize the harmful effects of the pollens as the phenomenon lasts not more than a fortnight. “In the event of rain, it can last for a week only,” said a scientist, adding the cultivation of Russian poplars within residential areas could even be avoided, as far as possible.
With the onset of spring, the poplars shed cotton like substance which is surrounded by invisible pollens. The process usually takes places for seven to 15 days in May. Experts said the pollens enter the human body through nose, skin and throat and trigger seasonal allergic rhinitis known as pollen allergy. Studies have shown that out of 46 pollen species, 26 are known to cause allergy,
“The pollen allergy has attained horrendous ramifications as a large section of people, including children, are affected by it. The pollens cause rhinitis, throat infection and hay fever,” said Dr Manzoor Latoo, an ENT specialist. However, he said, prevention, rather than medicines, was the best cure for the allergy.
The symptoms of pollen allergy include running and itchy nose, frequent sneezing, eye and throat infection and temporary loss of smell sense. “People who are prone to the pollen allergy should avoid direct sunlight, dust and eating on streets. Though there are some medicines, but effective way is to avoid pollens,” Dr Latoo said.
Experts said the pollens can even cause life-threatening respiratory allergies particularly to asthmatic patients. Dr Naveed Nazir Shah, a chest specialist, said the pollens largely affect the newborn and asthma patients.
“If the Asthma patients constantly suffer from pollen allergy, it can even cause their death,” he said.
The pollens are so minute that they can enter the skin through pores. Dr Imran Majeed, a Dermatologist, said the pollens cause verticaria and air-borne skin diseases.
“They are common skin diseases during the pollen fall and its affect can be minimized by application of few protective lotions which form a kind of layer on skin to prevent entry of pollens,” he said.
Dr Muneer Masoodi, HOD of Social and Preventive Medicine at Government Medical College, said pollen allergy was emerging as one of the major diseases affecting large number of people across the valley.
“Poplar is one of the few hundred tree species that trigger pollen allergy by the release of large amounts of pollen over a vast area. The allergy has affected some people here to such an extent that they are forced to move outside the valley to avoid its harmful effects,” Masoodi said, adding a Srinagar-based family allergic to Chinar pollen has temporarily shifted to Jammu.
Dr Saleem Khan, lecturer of SPM GMC said the possible preventive strategies included avoiding excessive outdoor movement when the pollen count was the highest and keeping the windows of rooms and vehicles shut to lower the pollen exposure.
Khan said the people prone to pollen allergy should consult doctors well in advance without resorting to self-medication especially with steroid preparations as tablets or nasal-sprays as it can have deleterious effects.
To check the allergy permanently, he advised people to cultivate female version of poplar trees, as it is pollen free. “The cultivation of female poplars will have no such allergic problems. It is for the botanists to ensure that only the female breed of poplar is cultivated,” he added.
An environmentalist, Dr Abdul Majeed Kak, ascribed the allergy to unabated cultivation of Russian poplars. He said some tree species used the pollen from their own seeds to fertilize themselves. “The trees shed the seeds in the shape of pollens some of which get scattered by winds and enter human body triggering various kinds of allergies.
The Dean, Faculty of Forestry at the Sher-i-Kashmir University of Agricultural Science and Technology, Prof MA Khan, said it will not be feasible to go for massive cutting of poplars as the valley’s key fruit industry and some other sectors wholly depend on its wood for making fruit boxes and for construction purposes.
“We have a program to genetically modify the poplars to minimize shedding of the pollens but it will take time. For the time being, however, the plantation of Russian specie of poplars within residential areas needs to be discouraged,” he added.

SYMPTOMS
• Frequent sneezing
• Running or stuffy nose
• Temporary loss of smell sense
• Postnasal drip with coughing
• Itchy nose, eye and throat infection
• Inflammation along eye-lids causing redness
• Dark circles under the eyes

PRECAUTIONS
• Clean bed linen daily.
• Shower and wash hair before going to bed
• Keep home and car windows closed
• Wear masks and avoid sunlight
• Stay indoors on high pollen-count days, if possible.
• Dry clothes indoors.
• Keep pillows and mattresses in washable covers.
• Discourage plantation of Russian poplars in residential areas


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