What you need to know about allergies in Singapore
Whether it’s itching, sneezing, or wheezing, most of you are probably familiar with at least one of the burdensome symptoms caused by allergies. Allergies are on the rise worldwide, and Singapore is no stranger to the increasing prevalence of this chronic condition. In fact, 13.1% of people in Singapore suffer from allergic rhinitis, aka hay fever.
Allergic reactions can range from more manageable and common symptoms such as itchy eyes or fatigue, to more severe and even life-threatening symptoms such as near-fatal asthma attacks and anaphylactic shock, where the body’s blood pressure suddenly drops and the airways become narrow. With this in mind, the importance of accessing quality medical treatment for our allergies is nothing to sneeze about.
Read on to discover everything you need to know about allergies in Singapore, and whether your health insurance covers this chronic condition.
Why are allergies increasing in prevalence?
According to an article by CNBC, the “hygiene hypothesis” may explain why more and more people are developing allergies. This theory postulates that the obsession with cleanliness and hygiene in developed nations has meant that children are becoming less and less exposed to infectious agents, which is why their immune systems are mistaking harmless substances as invaders. According to this theory, we’ve essentially created allergies for ourselves.
On the other hand, some scientists believe that global warming is to blame for this rising epidemic. The warmer climate is believed by some to worsen respiratory allergies. As the growing season for plants becomes longer, some scientists argue that this leads to higher pollen and allergen counts.
What is an allergy?
According to Medical News Today, “Allergies are hypersensitive immune responses to substances that either enter or come in contact with the body, such as pet dander, pollen or bee venom.” These typically innocuous substances are called “allergens”, and when your body comes across it again in the future, it will release “histamines” to counteract it. This reaction is what causes allergy symptoms.
Common allergens in Singapore
Some of the common causes of allergic reactions in Singapore include:
- Dust mites: These tiny microscopic relatives of the spider live and multiply easily in warm and humid weather. The National University Hospital of Singapore (NUH) reports that 9 out of ten people have a dust mite allergy, and are allergic to dust mite droppings in particular.
- Shellfish: As the most common food-related allergy in Singapore, shellfish allergy rates in 2014 were the only food allergy to reach epidemic proportions seen in Western countries. This is most likely because shellfish is consumed in copious amounts in this region. What’s more, shellfish is the most common cause of food anaphylaxis in adults in Singapore.
- Galactooligosaccharides (GOS): GOS is a prebiotic found in most milk formulas in Asia, Europe, and the US. This allergy is most prevalent in older children and adults with no prior allergies to milk products. Some people may even develop anaphylaxis after consuming food and beverage products containing GOS.
- Peanuts: Hypersensitivity to peanuts is also a worrying trend with relatively high prevalence in Singapore. Dr. Soh Jian Yi, Consultant at NUH’s Paediatric Allergy division said that most of the children are on treatment for peanut allergy.
Besides the above allergens, mold, other types of food (e.g. eggs, wheat-containing gluten), pet dander, certain medications, and pollen are also common causes of allergies in Singapore.
Common symptoms caused by allergies
When your body encounters an allergen, the release of histamine can manifest in our bodies in many ways, including:
- Skin rash
- Runny nose
- Swollen lips
In extreme cases, people can also develop anaphylaxis, which is more likely to happen to children with food allergies (particularly peanut allergies), and to adults who are allergic to bee stings and certain types of medication. If it’s not treated immediately, it can be fatal.
Treating allergy symptoms
Before treating your allergy symptoms, your doctor will want to know what’s causing your allergies. Besides looking at your medical history and evaluating your symptoms, they may also use skin or blood tests to identify your allergens.
Typically speaking, the best way to treat your allergy is to avoid your allergens in the first place. For example, if you’re allergic to dust mites, then it’s recommended that you clean your bed sheets often and purchase dust mite-proof bedding to achieve the greatest possible reduction in dust mite exposure.
Antihistamine medications can also help manage your allergies, as it helps block the histamine that’s causing your allergic reaction. If you’ve got a nasal allergy, then administering decongestants, either in an oral or spray form, can help you breathe easier. That being said, this form of treatment can only be used for short periods.
Another method of treatment that has become increasingly popular in Singapore is allergy shots. This form of treatment involves injecting the substance you are allergic to into your upper arm. The shots, which are first administered once every two to four weeks in the beginning, help your body become “desensitized” to your allergen by exposing it to increasingly higher doses of an allergen.
Does your health insurance cover allergies?
While there are several state-of-the-art facilities offering allergy treatment in Singapore, it can be incredibly expensive to receive the medical care you require for allergic reactions. For instance, inpatient treatment for asthma can easily set you back by SGD $6,676. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to ensure that your health insurance plan covers allergy treatment costs.
One thing you’ll need to bear in mind here is that many insurers (but not all) view allergies as a pre-existing condition, which is an ailment or illness that you’ve already had prior to securing health insurance. If this is the case, you may find yourself ineligible for coverage. That being said, if you were unaware that you had allergies before joining your plan, then it is likely that you will be covered. If you have a newborn, it’s recommended that you include your child in your health insurance plan as early as possible, so that their allergy treatment costs are covered if it develops at a young age.
If your insurer considers your allergy to be a pre-existing condition, yet you would still like to be covered, there may be options available to you. Some insurers will charge an additional premium to cover your pre-existing conditions, whereas others may impose a waiting period on your plan, which is a specified period of time that must pass before you’re eligible for coverage of your condition.
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