Yes, there’s such a thing as being too clean, and it’s bad news for your respiratory health.
We are aware that maintaining a good standard of hygiene can help to keep germs at bay, preventing infections and illnesses. But who would have guessed that living in an environment that is too clean can increase our risk of developing asthma or allergic rhinitis, a type of inflammation in the nose caused by allergens in the air?
While Singapore has always prided itself as a clean and green city, it could be the very reason for the increase of respiratory diseases among Singaporeans.
At a recent pre-symposium organised by the International Menarini Foundation at the 9th Singapore Allergy and Rhinology Conference, it was revealed that one in four adults has allergic rhinitis and one in five children has asthma in Singapore. These results double that of neighbouring countries Malaysia and Indonesia, said Dr Wang De Yun, research professor and director of research at the department of otolaryngology, National University of Singapore.
Studies discussed during the pre-symposium revealed that children living in close contact with animals are in fact less prone to frequent allergy and asthma subtypes.
This is because too clean an environment will lower your body’s natural defences as your body is not exposed to virus and bacteria that can help it grow. With your immune system constantly at rest, you will be easily triggered by common allergens like dust mites, mould, pollen and pet fur.
“Here in Singapore, the main challenge is excessive hygiene, but environmental pollution has a role too, as it worsens allergies by increasing mucosal inflammation and sensitisation,” said Dr Wang.
And Singapore’s tropical climate does not bode well for allergy-prone individuals. Our high humidity levels serve as the perfect breeding ground for mould and dust mites.
What can be done?
Unfortunately, only half the population suffering from allergic rhinitis seek medical advice, according to Dr Wang.
“Our nose acts as a “security guard”. It’s our body’s first line of defence to ward off virus and bacteria attacks,” he said, urging people to get help early.
Here are some of the most medically advanced ways to help manage allergies, as shared by experts at the conference.
Skin prick tests
Skin prick tests are now more accurate than before – they can identify specific subtypes of dust mites or pollen parts that trigger an immune response. You can get skin prick tests done at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) Allergy Centre.
Precision medicine is also seeing a breakthrough by being able to target specific biological molecules to deal with allergies and asthma.
Last but not least, smartphones are here to the rescue. Free mobile apps like Air Matters can help people take control of their allergies.
“Apps can improve patients’ compliance by enhancing their information and involvement in therapies,” said Wytske Fokkens, professor at the department of otorhinolaryngology at the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam. “They are also useful for doctors, enabling them to be updated about patients’ therapy routines and to rapidly identify adverse effects.”