The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that over 50 million people in America experience allergies every year, making it the sixth-most common cause of chronic illness in the country. According to the CDC’s National Health Interview Survey, over one-quarter of US adults (25.7%) and nearly one in five US children (18.9%) suffer from seasonal allergies, while 6.2% of adults and 5.8% of children suffer from food allergies.
Recent government data demonstrates that allergies, both existing and new ones, are increasing in frequency and intensity as the traditional allergy season lengthens.
Seasonal allergies that present as allergic rhinitis — with symptoms such as sneezing, congestion, and runny nose — cause an estimated 4.1 million physician office visits yearly. Meanwhile, food allergies are the leading cause of anaphylaxis, a sudden, severe, and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Each year, anaphylaxis sends 30,000 people to the emergency room, results in 2,000 hospitalizations, and causes 150 deaths.
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Who is most likely to suffer from allergies in America?
The prevalence of allergies in the US varies by sex, age, and race. But women and non-Hispanic white adults are more likely to experience seasonal allergies. Meanwhile, women, adults ages 45–64, and non-Hispanic Black adults are more likely to have a food allergy.
Adult women are 8.8% more likely than adult men to have a seasonal allergy and 3.2% more likely than adult men to have a food allergy. However, the inverse is found in children: boys under 18 (20.0%) are slightly more likely to have a seasonal allergy than girls under 18 (17.7%).
White, non-Hispanic adults are more likely to have a seasonal allergy (28.4%), while Black, non-Hispanic adults (8.5%) and children (7.6%) are most likely to suffer a food allergy. Those ages 45–64 are most likely to have a seasonal allergy (27.9%), while people younger than 64 are more likely to have a food allergy.
Public health officials are also paying attention to the rise of emerging allergies, such as alpha-gal syndrome. This affliction, caused by tick bites, can result in an allergy to a sugar found in many food products derived from mammals. The CDC recently concluded that as many as 450,000 people might have been affected by this new allergy between 2010 and 2022, with cases rising as clinical awareness increases.
When is allergy season?
For many with seasonal allergies, symptoms are worse during allergy season — the period beginning in spring when plants, trees, and grasses produce the most pollen. Allergy seasons differ depending on geography and have high year-to-year variability, but they tend to be consistent with regional differences in temperature change.
Why are seasonal allergies increasing?
Broad, conventional definitions of allergy season are evolving, primarily due to changes in the climate. The US Global Change Research Program reports that the start of spring — and the onset of allergy season — has, on average, occurred earlier in the contiguous United States since 1984.
Studies by the Environmental Protection Agency have shown that the pollen season has extended by up to 25 days in specific regions along the Mississippi River. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences also found that a warming climate lengthened the pollen season by as much as 13 to 27 days in the northern United States between 1995 and 2009.
The CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health notes that various impacts of climate change — such as precipitation patterns, more frost-free days, warmer seasonal air temperatures, and more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere — may potentially “cause more people to suffer more health effects from pollen and other allergens.”