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House dust mites main cause of respiratory allergies in S'pore, say researchers

Exposure to the house dust mite is the primary cause of respiratory allergies in Singapore, a study has shown.

SINGAPORE: Exposure to the house dust mite is the primary cause of respiratory allergies in Singapore, a study has shown.

The discovery carries potential implications in the management of asthma and allergic rhinitis in tropical urban environments, said the researchers who conducted the study.

Scientists from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) and the National University of Singapore (NUS) surveyed about 8,000 people and found that 80 per cent were reactive to house dust mites, with only minor reactivity to other allergens.

This high rate of reactions from house dust mites are "strongly correlated with increased rates of allergic rhinitis and asthma in Singapore," the scientists said.

With close to 15 per cent of Singapore's adult population affected by asthma and nearly 40 per cent troubled by allergic rhinitis, they added that these findings address the widening problem of allergy and asthma in tropical countries.

The results suggested that changes in lifestyle resulting in more time spent indoors increased one's exposure to high loads of house dust mite allergens.

Professor Olaf Rotzschke, the lead investigator of the study at A*STAR, said: "We believe that results from this study will help (scientists) to understand the differences of allergies in the tropics and other parts of the world.

"Knowledge of the allergic trigger together with a nearly complete sensitisation of the local population provide the perfect basis for the future exploration of the molecular and genetic factors that ultimately determine if the response to an allergen progresses into an allergic syndrome."

NUS Research Associate Professor Wang De Yun said: "Given the increasing prevalence of airway allergic diseases in Singapore and Southeast Asian countries, this study is truly a breakthrough in understanding why there is such a high number of allergic rhinitis patients in Singapore.

"Knowing the cause is the first step in developing more effective interventions to improve the quality of life for asthma and allergic rhinitis sufferers." 

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