In 1995, Moushumi Pathak was a carefree, college-going girl studying at Guwahati University in northeastern India. While at university, she noticed that she sneezed constantly and always had a runny nose. Her skin would itch a lot as well. She couldn’t understand what was causing this in the humid summers of Assam.
When this happened more frequently, she went to one of the local doctors who gave her news that she wasn’t prepared to receive. “Allergies showed up in my life like unwelcome guests. At that time, it didn’t even occur to me that this can disrupt a perfectly normal life that I was leading,” recalls Pathak, a Bihu dancer (an Assamese folk dance), over a telephonic call with Happiest Health.
Discovering the allergies
A few years went by, and she became increasingly dependent on anti-allergy medications and nasal drops to just get through the day. “Allergies made me tired and fatigued all the time. I had been physically fit my whole life, I couldn’t understand why this would happen to me out of the blue,” she says.
After consulting numerous doctors and finding no solution, she decided to visit the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi to look for treatment options. “The doctors shared the same shock as me when I tested positive for 35 different allergens. They told me there is no cure for allergies and that I must manage them with precautions. Honestly, I felt quite hopeless,” Pathak shares as she coughs on the call. She adds that she cannot recall most of the allergens she tested positive for.
Seasonal allergies made it worse
One of the main allergens that Pathak is allergic to is dust and pollen. “Guwahati is quite dusty, and not a great place for me to go out during the day, so if I am, definitely not without my allergy tablets,” says Pathak who is quite outgoing among her friends. “I am known as the person who is constantly sneezing!” she laughs.
“But the worst time of the year for me is when the season changes. That is when my allergies peak,” she says. When asked about how the allergies manifest, she explains that she mostly sneezes continuously which is accompanied by cough and itchy, watery eyes.
Her allergies affected her in many small ways – from not being able to touch her favourite flowers to foregoing her favourite veggies. “The doctors in AIIMS told me not to eat any slimy vegetables as it might trigger an allergic reaction, and even a few leafy vegetables that I have grown up savouring,” she says.
Since then, she avoids a range of food items in her diet including brinjal, flowers, French beans, long beans, cucumber, delicacies made up of duck and pigeons, Colocasia leaves, elephant apple, kidney beans, black-eyed beans and ladies’ fingers.
Allergies and asthma
The doctors in Delhi had cautioned her that her allergies might lead to asthma. This came true a few years later.
“One of the fondest traditions in my family is sitting near a bonfire during cold nights. After I developed asthma, I couldn’t even do that as well. The smoke would leave me coughing and gasping for breath,” says Pathak.
Twenty years later, her allergies have worsened. “The usual dosage of anti-allergy medications that I used to take is not effective anymore. In the last few years, my doctor upped the dosage because of which I am constantly dizzy and drowsy. I have also put on weight,” explains Pathak.
Dancing her allergies away
Pathak started dancing Bihu while in college and her love for dance has never wavered. In fact, it has saved her. She mentions that running marathons and actively organizing Bihu workshops brings her pure joy.
“So what if I have allergies? Does my life stop because of it? I don’t think so,” she says, ending on an optimistic note.