EAACI Congress 2017, the international meeting of the European Academy of Allergology and Clinical Immunology, was hosted in Helsinki. The Congress focused on the prevention of allergic diseases, looking towards a personalized approach.

We talked with Professor Enrico Heffler, teacher of Diseases of the respiratory tract at Humanitas University, who participated to the Congress, in a talk about asthma misdiagnoses, and about the right course to follow when diagnosing occupational respiratory diseases. He was re-elected member of Asthma Section Board for the third time in a row. He is also a certified member of the Speciality Committee.

“EAACI is an international point of reference for allergic diseases. My work inside the Academy is long-standing. From 2011 to 2013 I was a member of the Governing Board, as spokesman for young experts of allergology. I am an elected member of the Asthma Section Board, since 2013. The Academy has 5 sections. Asthma, Otolaryngology, Immunology, Pediatrics, Dermatology. Each one of them has a seven-person decisional board.
The aim of the Speciality Committee instead, is reinforcing the importance and the autonomy of Allergology, that in Europe is often a sub-speciality”, Professor Heffler points out.

Asthma misdiagnosis

“Misdiagnosis of asthma”. This is the title of the report Professor Heffler presented at the Congress. “This has been an interactive workshop, with the actual participation of experts. I studied the misdiagnosis of asthma. Even though asthma presents peculiar symptoms and has a well-codified diagnosis course, general practitioners tend to over-diagnose it. Almost a third of asthmatic people has a disease whose symptoms are only similar to asthma, according to the main studies on the misdiagnosis of asthma. On the other hand, they under-diagnose it. Especially severe asthma. For this reason, some patients are treated as asthmatic ones even though they are not, while other patients don’t get the right treatment because their asthma was not recognized and treated as such”, the specialist points out.

The diagnosis of occupational respiratory diseases

“Then, I suggested a reflection about the right course of diagnosis for occupational respiratory diseases. This is a very important topic. 15% of the respiratory diseases adults get, depend on their workplace.
Europe lacks good diagnostics for these diseases. In fact, if the disease has a likely occupational origin, the actual diagnosis has to come from Centers that specialize in occupational diseases, with specific challenge tests. However, such Centers are very few.

Another problem for these patients is the need to get away from the workplace. In fact, medications and prevention techniques are not always enough to treat the disease (as is the case with interstitial lung disease), and in these cases the only solution is getting away. In some cases, patients who work for big firms may reallocate and change the kind of job they perform, but this is not always possible. Many people suffer not only from the lack of health, but also from the loss of their job, with severe emotional consequences”, Professor Heffler concludes.

Precision and personalized medicine

Professor Giorgio Walter Canonica, Supervisor of the Personalized Medicine Center: Asthma and Allergology at Humanitas, intervened at the Congress with a plenary report called, “Practical approach to phenotypes and endotypes in nasal inflammatory diseases”. This work reinforced the importance of precision and personalized medicine, especially in the treatment of asthma and nose diseases.