Allergies are the body’s way of responding to foreign yet generally harmless substances (allergens) absorbed, inhaled, injected or swallowed into the human body. The body’s immune system reacts as if these allergens are a threat and trigger a series of events that ultimately results in an allergic reaction (e.g. anaphylaxis, asthma symptoms, eczema).
Allergies are a serious health concern and are a major cause of illness in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) allergies are the 6th leading cause of chronic illness with an annual cost in excess of $18 billion. Allergies affect as many as 50 million people in the US – about one in six Americans.
Allergens play a prominent role in asthma, which affects more than 25 million people in the US,1 and is the leading chronic disease in children.2 It is estimated that up to 90% of children with asthma have allergic triggers that cause their symptoms.3 The annual cost of asthma in the US is $56 billion. According to the CDC, black children are more than twice as likely as white children (38.3% to 15%) to have an ER visit due to asthma. And this disparity doesn’t change over time. Black adults are nearly two times as likely to have asthma-induced ER visits compared to white adults (22.1% to 11.6%), and are also more than twice as likely to require hospitalization to treat their asthma (6.2% to 2.7%).4
The prevalence of food and skin allergies is also noticeably on the rise in the U.S. A CDC study released in 2013 indicates that in US children aged 17 or under, food allergies increased approximately 50% and skin allergies increased almost 70% between 1997 and 2011. An estimated 9.5 million children suffer with skin allergies. In 2014, it was estimated that 16.5% of black children suffer with skin allergies, compared to 10.4% of white children.5
Allergic rhinitis (hay fever), a condition that causes symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes and itching of the throat, nose or eyes is estimated by researchers to affect approximately 50 million people in the United States. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology note that each year more than 13.4 million physician office visits and 2 million missed school days are due to allergic rhinitis.6
Allergies know no boundaries and affect Americans from all walks of life. Although children and minorities have some of the highest incidence rates, the Medicare population is not immune from the impact of allergies. Nearly 5 million Americans aged 65 or older have been diagnosed with asthma,7 which is often triggered by respiratory-based allergies. This represents more than 16% of all adults in the U.S. who suffer from asthma. Also of note, is the fact that nearly 4 million elderly Americans suffer from hay fever, which equates to nearly 20% of all U.S. adults who are afflicted by this allergy.7
Therapies to treat allergies are not always successful, especially with food allergies, where there are no known cures. Best management practices for these patients simply comes down to early diagnosis, strict lifelong food allergen avoidance and management of any allergic reactions/symptoms.
1 American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, 2016 http://www.aaaai.org/about-aaaai/newsroom/asthma-statistics.
3 Milgrom H. Understanding allergic asthma [AAAAI News Release]. June 18, 2003.
4 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Asthma Control Program Grantees, July 2013 http://www.cdc.gov/asthma/pdfs/asthma_facts_program_grantees.pdf.
5 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Health Interview Survey, 2014 http://ftp.cdc.gov/pub/Health_Statistics/NCHS/NHIS/SHS/2014_SHS_Table_C-2.pdf.
6 American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology https://www.aaaai.org/Aaaai/media/MediaLibrary/PDF%20Documents/Practice%20Resources/Joint-AI-House-and-Means-response-May-2012.pdf