WASHINGTON -- With the fall allergy season upon us, Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index data reveal that more than 1 in 10 U.S. adults, on average, report being sick with allergies on any given day of the year. Reports of allergies climb to more than 15% in the fall and exceed 18% in the spring.
The results are the first allergy findings reported from data collected as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Gallup and Healthways began asking Americans about allergy sickness in September 2008 and have continued to do so in Gallup Daily tracking surveys since then. The question specifically asks, "Were you sick with allergies yesterday?" providing a real-time gauge of how many American adults are sick with allergies at a given time of year. It is important to note, however, that the results reflect only respondent self-reports of allergies rather than an official medical diagnosis. Thus, the estimates could be higher or lower than actual rates if allergies are mistaken for a cold or flu or vice versa. Further, Americans who treat their allergies with medication and thus are not "sick" with allergies would also not be included.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America defines allergies as "diseases of the immune system that cause an overreaction to substances called 'allergens.'" Seasonal allergies are generally triggered by inhaling pollen or mold spores, with pollen allergies, or hay fever, most common in the spring and mold and ragweed allergies most common in the fall. Food and contact allergies are also common yearlong.
To date, the 2010 fall allergy season looks nearly identical to that of 2008 -- and slightly worse than 2009 -- with an average of 15.3% of U.S. adults reporting they were sick with allergies on any given day in October, and 16.8% saying so in September. The Gallup-Healthways trend suggests reports of allergies will continue to decline until January, and then start to consistently increase until peaking again in April and May. Fewer Americans report allergies in the summer than in the spring and fall but more than in the winter. Still, more than 1 in 10 adults report being sick with allergies even in the winter months -- more than report being sick with a cold or flu even at the height of cold and flu season. While the AAFA confirms that allergies can occur at any time of the year, it also acknowledges that the similarities between cold and flu and allergy symptoms can cause confusion in self-diagnoses.
Women, Lower-Income Americans, Those Living in the South Most Likely to Report Allergies
An analysis of self-reports of allergies over the past 12 months -- to account for the seasonal nature of allergies -- finds significant differences among demographic groups in terms of who is most likely to report suffering from allergies.
Most notably, women are the most likely of major demographic groups to report being sick with allergies, while men are the least likely to do so. While the reasons for the large gender gap cannot be stated with certainty, it is possible that men are less likely to report their allergies than women. The Well-Being Index also finds women more likely to suffer from asthma -- which can be caused by the same allergens as allergies -- than men.
Low-income Americans -- those making less than $36,000 per year -- are the second most likely to report being sick with allergies, while those with the highest incomes -- those making $90,000 or more per year -- are among the least likely. The income gap could be the result of wide disparities across incomes across all health and wellbeing metrics, including access to health insurance and money for and access to medicine. Low-income Americans are also more likely to have asthma than high-income Americans.
Those living in the South are the third most likely group to report being sick with allergies -- and easily more than those in other regions. The likelihood of respondents who live in the West, East, and Midwest to report being sick with allergies are remarkably similar.
Asian Americans are among the least likely to report being sick with allergies and less so than other races, aligning with other Well-Being Index data that often find Asians to be among the healthiest Americans.
Because many factors can cause allergies, identifying the reasons for higher prevalence among some groups is difficult. The Well-Being Index data do confirm that nearly one in three (32.7%) of those who report being sick with allergies also report having been diagnosed with asthma. Both allergy and asthma sufferers are slightly more likely than non-sufferers to say they smoke.
Gallup will analyze allergy results by state and metropolitan area in 2011 when full-year 2010 data are available.
The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index documents the extent to which Americans report suffering from allergies. While the survey does not define the type of allergies, the real-time nature of the question and resulting seasonal trend make clear that allergy reports are most prevalent in the spring and fall but persist at a relatively high rate yearlong -- even more than self-reports of cold and flu at the height of cold and flu season.
A challenge for sufferers and medical professional alike is disentangling the symptoms of allergies from colds, flu, asthma, and other illnesses with similar effects. Still, the clear demographic patterns reveal that allergy symptoms do appear to afflict some groups more than others. While the ability to become allergic is hereditary, exposure to allergens, access to medical treatment, and perhaps numerous other factors likely play a role in whether symptoms ultimately manifest.
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