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Hong Kong health care and hospitals

Climate change leading to spike in allergies among city dwellers – and Hongkongers won’t be spared

A team of six doctors from the city says leading a low-carbon life can lessen environmental damage and slow the spread of allergic diseases

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 June, 2018, 9:03am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 June, 2018, 9:03am

Climate change is not just hurting the environment – as it worsens, there has been a rise of between 300 and 500 per cent of city dwellers suffering from allergic diseases, according to local paediatricians.

Writing in the June issue of the Hong Kong Medical Journal, the doctors said the rapid increase could not be explained by genetics alone and highlighted “the important role of environmental changes”.

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In their paper, the team of six doctors noted the World Health Organisation’s estimate that climate change would lead to 250,000 additional deaths per year by 2030 to 2050.

For Hong Kong, they added, it was estimated that “an increase by 1 degree Celsius in the mean daily temperature above 28.2 degrees Celsius” was associated with an increase in mortality by 1.8 per cent. The city’s average temperature has risen by 0.8 degree Celsius per decade since the 1980s.

The team of doctors from the Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital, Chinese University and University of Hong Kong gave several examples of the knock-on effects from rising temperatures.

For example, this had led to heavier rainfall and rising sea levels, giving rise to floods and exacerbating surface wear and tear of buildings. This possibly induced more rapid growth of moulds in the indoor environment.

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There was also a close relationship between home dampness and respiratory symptoms including asthma, while house dust mites and cockroaches that triggered diseases like allergic rhinitis also preferred warm and humid environments, such as those found in subtropical Hong Kong.

In China, sandstorms or dust storms meant small particles could remain airborne for days and float hundreds of miles, “triggering asthma, pneumonia, allergic rhinitis, cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases”.

They also highlighted cases of “thunderstorm asthma’’, caused when grass pollens “exploded” during thunderstorms, producing fragments that could trigger allergic reactions.

Last year, the Hong Kong Institute of Allergy said more than one in two people in Hong Kong suffer from one or more allergic diseases.

The doctors called on the government and individuals to choose low-carbon living to reduce environmental damage.

Some practical examples they gave were to choose more vegetables and less meat, avoid restaurants that use disposable wooden chopsticks and plastic plates, choose the MTR, trams or light buses that use liquefied petroleum gas, choose airlines involved in “carbon neutral” programmes when travelling abroad, and to turn off computer screens, laptops and TVs completely instead of putting them on standby mode.

“A better mitigation of important climatic changes will help to alleviate the progressive increasing trend of allergic disease development,” the doctors said.