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Keywords:

  • allergens;
  • asthma;
  • atopy;
  • immunoglobulin E;
  • rhinitis

Abstract

Background

Southeast Asian populations are increasingly affected by allergic airway diseases. Etiology and specific causes, however, are still unknown. The aim of this study is therefore to identify allergens and risk factors for the high prevalence of allergic airway disease in the tropical urban environment.

Methods

Symptoms of allergic rhinitis (AR), asthma, and allergic dermatitis were recorded in two independent cohorts of 576 and 7373 ethnic Chinese individuals living in Singapore. Reactivity against common allergens was determined by skin prick tests (SPT); specific immunoglobulin E (sIgE) titers against 12 common allergens, as well as total serum IgE (tIgE), were measured in the smaller cohort.

Results

Immunoglobulin E sensitization was almost exclusively directed against house dust mite (HDM) allergens. More than 80% of individuals were HDM-sIgE positive. Of these, less than 30% also had sIgE for other allergens, and similarly, few of the HDM-sIgE-negative individuals reacted to other allergens. Titers for HDM-sIgE were 8–30 times higher than other non-HDM allergen titers and correlated directly with total serum tIgE levels. Migrants from nontropical countries typically arrived with low or undetectable HDM-sIgE but developed substantial titers in a time-dependent fashion. Importantly, prolonged stay in Singapore also resulted in the manifestation of AR and asthma symptoms, contributing to some of the highest national prevalence rates worldwide.

Conclusion

In a tropical urban environment, the allergic response is dominated by a single allergen class. The mono-specific IgE sensitization against HDM translates into increased prevalence of allergic airway diseases, which now impact a large proportion of the population in Singapore.