Meet immunologist and allergist Dr Amir Hamzah

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IF you live in the Klang Valley and your child has an allergy, there is a good chance you would have gone to Dr Amir Hamzah Dato’ Abdul Latiff. He is a consultant clinical immunologist/allergist for adults and children at the Allergy & Immunology Centre in Pantai Hospital Kuala Lumpur.

He is also president of the Malaysian Society of Allergy and Immunology (MSAI), a post he has held since 2009. In addition, he is a board member of the Asia Pacific Association of Allergy, Asthma and Clinical Immunology (APAAACI) and editorial board member of AP Allergy and European Medical Journal – Allergy & Immunology.

When he is not seeing patients, Dr Amir can be found at talks and events sharing information related to allergy and immunology and creating awareness.

Here, he takes time to reply some questions from Thots n Tots:

How long have you been an immunologist/allergist?

I have been practising clinical immunology/allergy since 1998 starting in the UK and on my return home in 2006 as a consultant.

How did you get into it?

It stemmed from my greater interest in the field of clinical immunology while doing my Master in Medicine (Paediatrics) thesis.

Where have you practised apart from Malaysia?

I practised in Leeds and Newcastle, in the UK.

Where did you study (tertiary)?

I graduated from University of Malaya in 1989.

How different is it to treat children compared with adults?

The difference would depend on knowing relevant diseases according to ages, and treating children is also a family affair and not just treating the individual child.

Are there any perks to being an immunologist and allergist?

The perks would be the same for any field of speciality in medicine and that is having the satisfaction of caring for and educating patients and their families.

In layman’s terms what does an immunologist do? And what does an allergist do?

A clinical immunologist would treat diseases that are immune-mediated as well as having the expertise in immunopathology laboratory diagnostics, and this will include diseases like allergy, primary immunodeficiency and autoimmune diseases. An allergist is a specialist dealing with mainly allergic diseases.

Are there many doctors specialising in immunology and allergy in Malaysia?

No, not many doctors are specialising in clinical immunology or allergy in Malaysia, and currently there are eight with the majority in the Klang Valley. Ideally there should be around two clinical immunologists per one million population.

What is the most common issue you see in children?

Mostly it is eczema, food allergy, chronic urticaria, allergic rhinitis, asthma and drug allergy.

What advice would you give parents with regard to their children’s immune system and allergies?

Allergy is a hypersensitivity reaction whereby the immune system is shown to be involved or strongly suspected (from detailed clinical history and complemented by allergy tests). While there is a hypersensitivity of the immune system, the overall aspect of the children’s immunity would still remain intact. This would translate to a normal lifestyle and parents should be assured that the growth and development of their children remains normal with regular monitoring by a clinical immunologist/allergist.

When it comes to allergies, when should parents be worried?

Understanding what allergies are in terms of its chronic nature and the concept of allergy march is important, and thus educating parents on these issues is important. Once there is a solid understanding of the nature of allergic diseases, then, in general, parents would be less worried, and be alert and more adherent to treatment as allergic diseases are associated with co-morbid conditions with their morbidities, and to avoid the more serious severe, life-threatening allergic reaction, which is anaphylaxis.

How many kids do you have? Has being a parent helped you in your job?

I have one daughter who is seven years old. Being a parent helps me care better for children because there is an understanding of their behaviours at respective ages. Additionally, I am able to empathise with the children’s parents.

How do you relax?

Reading and watching TV.

Do you watch doctor shows on TV?

Very rarely nowadays, but I did follow for a while ER and House, essentially for relaxation.

If you could invent something child-related, what would it be and why?

It would not be specific to a child, but having a cream (of cheap natural organic products) that effectively repairs the eczematous skin, particularly the healing process whereby the hyper- or hypopigmented areas would revert to the normal skin tone. This will improve the emotional aspects of having eczema, i.e., boosting the self-esteem and self-image.