Interview: Dr Kapil Sikka
We need systematic scientific studies to say that the current rise in respiratory illnesses is due to climate change: Dr Sikka
Gunjan Sharma|
Sunday, April 9, 2023

The northwest part of the country has recently witnessed one of the hottest days of February followed by one of the coldest days of March. There has been a significant increase in flu-like illness in the region. Are these two situations co-related? Gunjan Sharma, editor of Healthpost interviews speaks to Dr. Kapil Sikka, professor, ENT at All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi, on the subject.  


For the last few years, researchers and clinicians across the globe have been talking about the effect of climate change on respiratory health. Institutes like John Hopkins have done the research and found a link between the rise in temperature and increased cases of respiratory infection and illness. 

Do you see a relationship between the two? 

Generally, there is an increase in cases of respiratory illness when there is a shift in the weather conditions—from summer to winter and winter to summer. But this time, there is an apparent increase in the number of cases as compared to previous years. 

There could be several reasons for this—rapid changes in weather; a recent spike in Covid cases,  and an influenza virus which is quite infectious. 

This is based on my observation. We know that climate change is conducive to certain viruses. 

But we need to conduct systematic scientific studies to say that the current rise in respiratory illnesses is due to climate change.  


Are allergies becoming more common? Research says that warmer climates are leading to longer pollen season and an increase in pollen potency, which is a major cause of allergic reactions in those who are susceptible. 

Allergies are very common in our environment, especially in the northwest part of our country. Here, pollens, house dust mites, dust, and smoke are common allergens. In case of a prolonged warm season, allergies of the upper respiratory tract which is called allergic rhinitis, and that of the lower respiratory tract which is bronchitis or asthma,  get precipitated. There has been some increase in the number of cases. 

Fungal infection which is rampant in the northwest part of the country is allergic fungal sinusitis. It manifests as cold and polyps in the nose. If you look at world literature, this fungal infection is endemic to northwest India. These fungal molds are again found in the pollens.   


What do you prescribe to your patients who come with upper respiratory problems? 

Most of the illnesses we have discussed have similar symptoms—stuffy or runny nose, fatigue, fever, sore throat, etc. 

Most of the patients require symptomatic treatment which may include nasal drops to relieve stuffiness in the nose, and antipyretic or anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve fever and pain in the body. Most patients don’t need antibiotics. 

I want to tell people that they should not take over-the-counter antibiotics. Unfortunately, a lot of doctors also prescribe antibiotics where there is no need. A viral or allergic infection does not require antibiotics. 

In a few cases, we need to prescribe steroids but the dose and the duration have to be decided by the treating doctor. No patient should take steroids on his own. 

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