In Malaysia, allergic rhinitis affects about 40% of the population, while allergic asthma – the most common type of asthma – affects 80%-90% of Malaysian asthmatics.
Allergic rhinitis is a non-life-threatening inflammation of the inside of the nose caused by allergens such as pollen, dust, dust mites, mould or flakes of skin from certain animals.
It is characterised by symptoms such as sneezing, nasal congestion, nasal itching and running nose.
Meanwhile, allergic asthma is an immunological response to similar allergens that cause inflammation and swelling of the airways of the lungs.
This results in severe respiratory symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and other asthmatic features.
“Allergic rhinitis can cause fatigue, headache and cognitive impairment.
“Research shows that those with allergic rhinitis are also at high risk of developing asthma, with one in three people going on to develop asthma.
“A close relationship exists between the two conditions, as they are different manifestations linked to an allergen,” explained Malaysian Society of Allergy and Immunology president Dr Amir Hamzah Abdul Latiff.
The Asia Pacific Association of Allergy, Asthma and Clinical Immunology second vice-president added: “Half of the 300 million global estimate of asthmatic patients lives in Asia.
“Adults with uncontrolled asthma and caregivers of children with uncontrolled asthma have significantly higher absenteeism, forcing them to miss work or school, which can impact productivity.
“Asthma symptoms may also interfere with sleep or prevent people from exercising or engaging in other leisure or social activities.”
These allergic reactions stem from an over-reactive immune system. When a person reacts to an allergen, the immune system flares up upon exposure to an even seemingly-harmless allergen.
In Malaysia, the majority of asthma and/or runny nose episodes are caused by an allergy to house dust mites, which can be found in most homes.
Several studies conducted over many years found that all Malay-sian houses surveyed had dust mites, with a minimum of six different species (in mattresses) in any house.
While house dust mites can be reduced through simple measures such as vacuuming and regular changing of mattresses and pillows, these precautions do not eliminate them entirely.
To date, house dust mite-induced allergic rhinitis has been treated with symptom-relieving medications such as antihistamines or steroid nasal sprays.
However, studies have suggested that these treatments control only a portion of a patient’s symptoms.
As it is not possible to completely eliminate the allergen in a daily setting, symptom-based treatments often do not provide long-lasting respite.
Therefore, immunotherapy is sometimes the only alternative to treat house dust mite-induced allergic rhinitis, as it addresses the underlying cause of the allergy.
Meanwhile, treatment for allergic asthma comprises quick relief or rescue medications used to relieve patients of symptoms, and long-term control medications that are used daily to achieve and maintain control of asthma.
While these have been the mainstay of asthma treatment, studies have demonstrated that immunotherapy tablets are a viable alternative to treat airway allergies such as asthma.
Acarizax is a novel treatment indicated for persistent moderate-to-severe house dust mite allergic rhinitis in adult (18-65 years) and adolescent (12-17 years) patients, and house dust mite allergic asthma in adult patients.
Offered in a tablet that dissolves under the tongue, the immunotherapy showed significant positive effects in patients with moderate to severe house dust mite-induced allergic rhinitis over a treatment period of 14 weeks to one year in clinical trials.
Patients showed improvement in terms of reduction of rhinitis symptoms and medication use.
Acarizax was well-tolerated with the most adverse effects being mild local allergic reactions that subsided after a few days or weeks.
The immunotherapy also showed long-term improvement in symptoms of known asthmatics.
After one year of treatment, significant improvements were noted in nasal, eye and asthma symptoms, including reduction of cough, wheezing and shortness of breath.
“Allergy immunotherapy, as a treatment option to stimulate a person’s immunity, has been proven to provide patients with long-term post-treatment benefits.
“As such, the treatment of allergic rhinitis and allergic asthma with immunotherapy should be considered for patients with a less than adequate response to standard treatment,” said pharmaceutical company ALK Denmark Global Advisor to Research and Development for Clinical Allergology Professor Dr Eike G Wüstenberg.
Abbott Malaysia Medical Affairs head Dr Mei Tan said: “At Abbott, we look at the best technology and science or new delivery methods to improve medicines for people all over the world.
“Acarizax is a good example of that approach, as this medicine redefines the allergy treatment landscape by helping patients effectively treat not just the symptoms of allergy, but the actual underlying cause of allergy.
“Plus, it’s convenient and fits today’s busy lifestyle, which means it will make it easier for people with house dust mite respiratory allergies to improve their lives.”
Acarizax is currently available at private hospitals in Malaysia.