'Tis the Season for Allergies

The red eyes and runny nose are a dead giveaway this time of year; allergy season is in full swing!

It's not just inconvenient. It's costly. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation says Americans spend nearly $6 billion a year on allergy medications.

More than 50 million Americans have allergies. The first big challenge in finding relief is making sure it's really an allergy that ails you.

Lisa Heersink knows what her allergies feel like. She says itchy eyes, lots of nasal drainage, sometimes coughing and a generally miserable feeling had often been the norm for her, especially in spring.

Cotton-O'Neil allergist Dr. Saaswa Mante says the reason Spring is so bad for allergy sufferers is the double-whammy of new pollen coming on, plus any pre-existing sensitivities they may have. He says an allergy's itch is what sets it apart from a cold. He says allergies may cause all the mucus membranes, eyes, nose, throat and ears, to itch. He says a cold typically is short term with a definite end to it, and it's not seasonal.

Dr. Mante says a doctor can help you know for sure whether it's an allergy. If it is, he says, the key thing is avoidance. He says that means staying indoors and use the air conditioning whenever possible, keep both your home and car windows closed, avoid freshly cut grass, don't dry your laundry outdoors, and think about showering before bed so airborne allergens that get caught in your hair aren't next to your face on the pillow all night.

A variety of over the counter and prescription medications can also relieve symptoms. Dr. Mante says, particularly with prescriptions, you might want to start taking them two weeks before allergy season begins. He does caution to consult a doctor about any potential side effects.

Lisa now gets allergy shots every week. She says it's helping her breath a lot easier.

More people than ever are reporting allergies. Dr. Mante says that's in part because of more awareness. He says there's also a theory that a move to more urban living has made us more sensitive to dust, mold and pollen.

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The following is from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America's Web site, www.aafa.org

Allergy Facts and Figures

Allergy is characterized by an overreaction of the human immune system to a foreign protein substance (“allergen”) that is eaten, breathed into the lungs, injected or touched. This immune overreaction can results in symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, itchy eyes, runny nose and scratchy throat. In severe cases it can also result in rashes, hives, lower blood pressure, difficulty breathing, asthma attacks, and even death.

There are no cures for allergies. Allergies can be managed with proper prevention and treatment.
Allergies have a genetic component. If only one parent has allergies of any type, chances are 1 in 3 that each child will have an allergy. If both parents have allergies, it is much more likely (7 in 10) that their children will have allergies.
More Americans than ever before say they are suffering from allergies. It is among the country's most common, yet often overlooked, diseases.

* Annual U.S. Prevalence Statistics for Chronic Diseases


An estimated 50 million Americans suffer from all types of allergies (1 in 5 Americans) including indoor/outdoor, food & drug, latex, insect, skin and eye allergies. Allergy prevalence overall has been increasing since the early 1980s across all age, sex and racial groups. [1]
Allergy is the 5th leading chronic disease in the U.S. among all ages, and the 3rd most common chronic disease among children under 18 years old. [2]
Indoor and Outdoor Allergies – (Allergic rhinitis; seasonal/perennial allergies; hay fever; nasal allergies) Approximately 75% of all allergy sufferers have indoor/outdoor allergies as their primary allergy. (Many people with allergies usually have more than one type of allergy.) Approximately 10 million people are allergic to cat dander, the most common pet allergy. The most common indoor/outdoor allergy triggers are: tree, grass and weed pollen; mold spores; dust mite and cockroach allergen; and, cat, dog and rodent dander.
Skin Allergies – (Atopic dermatitis; eczema; hives; urticaria; contact allergies) Approximately 7% of allergy sufferers have skin allergies as their primary allergy. Plants such as poison ivy, oak and sumac are the most common skin allergy triggers. However, skin contact with cockroach and dust mite allergen, certain foods or latex may also trigger symptoms of skin allergy.
Food and Drug Allergies – Approximately 6% of allergy sufferers have food/drug allergies as their primary allergy. Food allergy is more common among children than adults. 90% of all food allergy reactions are cause by 8 foods: milk, soy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish. For drug allergies, penicillin is the most common allergy trigger.
Latex Allergy – Approximately 4% of allergy sufferers have latex allergy as their primary allergy. An estimated 10% of healthcare works suffer from latex allergy.
Insect Allergies – Approximately 4% of allergy sufferers have insect allergies as their primary allergy (bee/wasp stings and venomous ant bites; cockroach and dust mite allergen may also cause nasal or skin allergy symptoms.)
Eye Allergies – (Allergic conjunctivitis; ocular allergies) – Approximately 4% of allergy sufferers have eye allergies as their primary allergy, often caused by many of the same triggers as indoor/outdoor allergies.

Allergies are the most frequently reported chronic condition in children, limiting activities for more than 40% of them.
Each year, allergies account for more than 17 million outpatient office visits, primarily in the spring and fall; seasonal allergies account for more than half of all allergy visits. [3]
Skin allergies alone account for more than 7 million outpatient visits each year. [4]
Food allergies account for 30,000 visits to the emergency room each year. [5]
Exposure to latex allergen alone is responsible for over 200 cases of anaphylaxis (severe allergic reactions) each year. [6]

Nearly 400 Americans die each year due to drug allergies from penicillin. [7]
More than 200 deaths occur each year due to food allergies. [8]
Each year nearly 100 Americans die due to insect allergies. [9]
10 deaths each year are due to severe reactions to latex allergy. [10]
Social and Economic Costs

The annual cost of allergies is estimated to be nearly $7 billion.
Direct costs accounted for nearly $6 billion ($5.7 billion in medications and $300 million in office visits). [11]
For adults, allergies (hay fever) is the 5th leading chronic disease and a major cause of work absenteeism and “presenteeism,” resulting in nearly 4 million missed or lost workdays each year, resulting in a total cost of more than $700 million in total lost productivity. [12]


[1] “CDC Fast Facts A-Z,” Vital Health Statistics, 2003
[2] “Chronic Conditions: A Challenge for the 21st Century,” National Academy on an Aging Society, 2000
[3] “CDC Fast Facts A-Z,” Vital Health Statistics, 2003
[4] “In Allergy Principles and Practice,” 5th Edition, 1998
[5] “Anaphylaxis in the United States,” Archives of Internal Medicine, 2001
[6] “Anaphylaxis in the United States,” Archives of Internal Medicine, 2001
[7] “Anaphylaxis in the United States,” Archives of Internal Medicine, 2001
[8] “Anaphylaxis in the United States,” Archives of Internal Medicine, 2001
[9] “Anaphylaxis in the United States,” Archives of Internal Medicine, 2001
[10] “Anaphylaxis in the United States,” Archives of Internal Medicine, 2001
[11] “Chronic Conditions: A Challenge for the 21st Century,” National Academy on an Aging Society, 2000
[12] “Chronic Conditions: A Challenge for the 21st Century,” National Academy on an Aging Society, 2000

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