Improving allergy management with a focus on gut bacteria

Helping sufferers with the symptoms of allergic rhinitis by investigating the use of topical nasal sprays and the role of gut bacteria, is the focus of a new Griffith University study.

Better known as hayfever, people are being reminded to stay on top of the condition as we enter the storm season, in order to avoid triggering symptoms or making them worse.

The study is examining the mechanisms by which nasal sprays reduce symptoms of allergy and the way in which the composition of the bacteria in our gut may predispose people to allergy.

“We are aiming to determine why people respond differently to allergy treatments,” says researcher Dr Nic West from Griffith’s Menzies Health Institute Queensland.

“We know that individuals do not respond equally to common treatment strategies and determining why is important to helping people in the community manage their allergy symptoms.

An altered gut bacteria and immune profile

“Gut bacteria are also able to modify the immune system, with studies suggesting that people suffering from allergic rhinitis may have an altered gut bacteria and immune profile.

“A better understanding of this may improve diagnostic and treatments in the future,” says Dr West.

The prevalence of allergic rhinitis has increased across the population over the last two decades, with up to 25% of the Australian population now suffering from the disease.

Recently, the Victorian Government introduced its world leading thunderstorm asthma detection system to prevent a repeat of the tragedy that claimed nine lives in last November’s freak weather event.

Allergies of the upper airway such as rhinitis may appear before asthma. In the rare circumstances of thunderstorm asthma deaths, most patients were unaware of their allergic rhinitis.

Symptoms of allergic rhinitis include sneezing, nasal discharge and congestion, itchy eyes and difficulty breathing. These symptoms occur upon contact with allergens, many of which, such as the dust mite, are commonplace around the home.

Triggering off allergy symptoms exacerbates other respiratory conditions, particularly asthma, due to irritation of the respiratory tract.

Professor Pete Smith, a Griffith University allergy specialist who also works for the Queensland Allergy Services, notes: “Preventing allergic rhinitis symptoms from worsening is important in the storm season given the spike in respiratory symptoms that required hospitalisation last summer.

“With the earlier than expected warmer weather and tropical wet season approaching, it is almost the perfect storm to create a spike in allergic reactions.

“The warmer weather is conducive to an increase in dust mites around the home while the storm season increases circulation of dust and pollen, all of which worsen allergy symptoms,” says Professor Smith.

Treatment strategies for allergic rhinitis are based on oral or topical anti-histamines and, when severe, corticosteroids. While many people feel unsatisfied about the use of pharmacotherapy it is essential during high-risk periods.

For information on becoming involved in the Griffith University study, phone 0422 381424 or email: allergic.study@gmail.com. Participants can be aged 18-65 and can suffer from moderate to severe hayfever or not suffer from it all.