Aug. 12, 1999 Yet Most Are Unaware of Treatments That Could Help Free Them From Symptoms
Arlington Heights, Ill., July 29, 1999 -- Allergies affect about 38 percent of all Americans -- almost twice as many as allergy experts have believed -- and millions of them suffer unnecessarily or rely on medications they don't want to take because they don't know about other effective treatment options, according to a new survey released today by the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI).
A representative sample of 1,004 adults were asked about their experiences with allergies. Thirty-eight percent reported having allergies, while 56 percent said they live in a household in which at least one member, including themselves, has allergies. The number of people affected surprised even allergy experts who thought the incidence of allergies was closer to 20 percent of the population.
Among those who said they live in households with members who have allergies, more than half (60 percent) could not name any treatments other than prescription or over-the-counter medications.
"This new data shows us that allergies are almost twice as common as we thought," said Ira Finegold, MD, past-president of the ACAAI. "What's of even greater concern is that the majority of people with allergies don't know about treatment options, such as allergy shots, that can bring them relief. A lot of them are either suffering from the symptoms or from medication side-effects."
Almost two-thirds of respondents who said they have allergies had never tried or considered allergy shots, also known as allergy immunization or vaccination. Allergy shots are a well-established treatment that naturally desensitizes the immune system. Small amounts of purified extracts of the substance causing allergic reactions are periodically injected and gradually increased until immunity is attained. They are effective against allergic diseases including allergic rhinitis (hayfever), insect sting allergy and asthma.
The treatment has a long track record of effectiveness and safety, with the incidence of adverse reactions less than 2/10 of 1 percent. It can be given to children as young as 4 and is safe for pregnant women as long as treatment was begun before pregnancy.
Though not well known, allergy shots are viewed positively by those who are familiar with them, especially by those who have had the treatment, according to the survey. The survey also found that 54 percent of respondents would be willing to try allergy shots if the treatment would free them from medications.
The ACAAI commissioned the national survey as part of a public education campaign to increase understanding of allergy immunization and encourage people who may be helped by this therapy to consider it. The randomized telephone survey was conducted by Opinion Research Corporation (ORC). Interviews were conducted with 1,004 respondents -- 502 men and 502 women -- 18 years of age and older living in private households in the continental United States. The survey results are projectable to the U.S. population and have a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percent to 4 percent.
"While we were discouraged by the lack of awareness of allergy shots, we were encouraged to see that those who do know about the treatment -- and those who have had the treatment -- have positive attitudes and correct perceptions about it," Dr. Finegold said. "People want the relief that allergy shots can bring and are willing to try the treatment if it will free them from their symptoms or medication side effects."
The only negative perception of allergy shots by a substantial number surveyed was related to cost. More than half answered "yes" when asked if they thought allergy shots are expensive.
"The perception seems to be that vaccination is a great treatment for allergies but is not affordable," Dr. Finegold said. "In fact, allergy shots often are covered by health plans and the treatment can eliminate the need to buy medications. Overall, it's often less expensive and more effective than relying on medications every day and trying to isolate the allergy-sufferer from the environment. In many cases, the shots eventually can be discontinued, along with allergy medications, and the immunity maintained."
In responding to questions about familiar allergy treatments, nearly a quarter of the respondents named specific over-the-counter medications. Another 14 percent named prescription medications. When asked where they get most of their information on allergy treatments, advertisements were the most often named source, cited by 68 percent of the respondents.
"The pharmaceutical companies have done an excellent job of making allergy sufferers aware of many effective allergy medications," Dr. Finegold said. "As allergists, we want the public to know about all their treatment options so they can find the ones that are most effective and best suited to their lifestyle."
As part of its campaign to increase awareness, the ACAAI has created a new consumer education quiz. The quiz will be made available on the College's Web site. The quiz tests an individual's knowledge of allergy treatments, and provides detailed answers. The College also has a free brochure, You Can Have a Life Without Allergies, available by calling 1-800-842-7777 or through the Web site. The brochure explains how allergy shots work and fit into the overall management of allergy and asthma.
The ACAAI is a professional medical organization comprising 4,100 allergists-immunologists and related health professionals dedicated to the clinical practice of allergy, asthma and immunology through education and research to promote the highest quality patient care.
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