SINGAPORE - Researchers have discovered that a majority of patients with a type of chronic lung disease are highly allergic to fungi and dust mites.
This means that people with bronchiectasis - which currently has no effective cure - can receive treatment for the allergy and have their condition alleviated.
Bronchiectasis is a permanent condition in which parts of the airways have enlarged due to irreversible damage to the lungs.
People with this condition find it hard to cough out phlegm and are more prone to bacterial, viral or fungal infection.
Bronchiectasis sometimes coexists with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
The study showed that more than half or 58 per cent of bronchiectasis patients were sensitive to at least one allergen, compared to 27 per cent in a group of patients with hay fever.
This finding will help more patients to get the correct treatment for a disease in which half of the cases have no identifiable cause, said Assistant Professor Sanjay Haresh Chotirmall from the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine at Nanyang Technological University.
"What's really good about this is that although bronchiectasis currently does not have any licensed treatments, allergy is treatable," added Prof Chotirmall, who is the lead researcher.
Some other causes of bronchiectasis include childhood infection like pneumonia, post-infection bronchiectasis, and blockages of the airway.
While there is no data on the prevalence of the disease here, bronchiectasis among patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can range between 4 per cent and 69 per cent globally.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was the 10th principal cause of death here in 2017.
The study was undertaken by local and overseas researchers who studied fungal infection in over 200 bronchiectasis patients from Singapore, Malaysia and Scotland from 2016 to 2019, matching patients in Asia to those in Europe in terms of age, gender and severity of bronchiectasis.
The matching of patients enabled researchers to control the influence of these factors and show that the types and causes of allergies associated with the disease vary across regions.
Previous research focused on non-Asian populations, but Asians have a much higher rate of the disease than non-Asians, said Prof Chotirmall.
The study was published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine in April.
The team included researchers from Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Singapore General Hospital, Changi General Hospital, National University of Singapore, Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), National University of Malaysia, and University of Dundee in Scotland.
An earlier study by the same group of researchers published in July last year found that patients in Singapore and Malaysia showed greater sensitivity to the house dust mite and major allergens of the species Aspergillus fumigatus. Patients from Scotland showed greater sensitivity to the minor allergens of Aspergillus fumigatus.
A major allergen refers to a specific protein of the fungus where a detected allergy is more common, and a minor allergen is one where the allergy it causes is less common.
Prof Chotirmall said that the next step is to look into more environmental factors that contribute to bronchiectasis, such as the home and outdoor environments, as well as the air that people breathe.