How common are allergies? | Allergy stats by type | Allergy stats by age | Allergy stats in males vs. females | Allergies and overall health | Costs | Causes | Prevention | Treatment | FAQs | Research
You wake up after enjoying an evening in the woods around a campfire with friends to an itchy rash around a bite on your legs. It’s finally springtime, but you wake up to red, watery eyes and can’t stop sneezing. You go on a New England vacation and enjoy some fresh shellfish, only to develop shortness of breath and a trip to urgent care. What’s going on? You could be one of the millions of people around the world who experience allergies.
What are allergies?
Allergies are defined by The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) as an immune system reaction to a foreign substance—or allergen. The reaction can develop after an allergen is ingested, inhaled, injected, or even touched and can manifest as coughing, sneezing, hives, rash, or itchy eyes. In severe cases, known as anaphylaxis, a person can develop low blood pressure, difficulty breathing, and even death.
The most common allergens include grass and tree pollen (main causes of hay fever), dust mites, animal dander, insect bites and stings, various foods (like nuts, shellfish, and eggs), medications, and latex.
Diagnosing allergies can take on a few different forms. It can include a series of skin prick tests, intradermal skin tests, blood tests, patch tests, and exposure challenges.
How common are allergies?
Allergies are common. More than 50 million Americans experience some type of allergy each year across all age groups. A recent survey of 2,000 Americans revealed that 59% of survey takers reported allergies of some type. Both children and adults can develop allergies. In children, some allergies resolve with age; in adults, allergies can develop over time with repeated exposures to allergens.
Allergy statistics by type
Food allergy statistics
- Food allergies affect approximately 32 million people in the United States (AAFA, 2019).
- Eight specific foods cause the most common food allergies: milk, soy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish (U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2021).
- In one year, nearly 5 million children younger than 18 developed food allergies (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019).
- In adults, shellfish is the most common food allergen (Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 2014).
- In children, milk is the most common food allergen (Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics 2014).
Hay fever statistics
- Hay fever affects 10% to 30% of the world’s population (World Health Organization, 2013).
- Approximately 5 million children and 20 million adults are affected by hay fever annually (CDC, 2018).
- In children, white children are more affected by hay fever compared to other races (CDC, 2019).
Insect allergy statistics
- There is no documented history of previous systemic reactions in up to 50% of fatal insect allergic reactions (WHO, 2013).
- Approximately 5% of the population experience an insect sting allergy each year (Journal of Asthma and Allergy, 2015).
- Up to 100 deaths occur annually in the United States due to insect sting anaphylaxis, the most severe form of an allergic reaction (American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, 2018).
Skin allergy statistics
- 31.6 million people in the U.S. have eczema (Journal of Dermatitis, 2007).
- One in five people has allergic contact dermatitis (JAMA Dermatology, 2021).
- Hives (urticaria) affects 20% of people (ACAAI, 2018).
- 217,000 emergency room visits occurred due to contact dermatitis or other eczema diagnoses in 2018 alone (CDC, 2018).
- Approximately 3 million physician office visits occur each year related to contact dermatitis or eczema (CDC, 2016).
Drug allergy statistics
- Up to 10% of the population report an allergy to the antibiotic penicillin (Allergy and Asthma Proceedings, 2014).
- 7% of survey participants report an allergy to aspirin, ibuprofen, and other NSAIDs (SingleCare, 2021)
- 2% of survey participants report an allergy to seizure medications and 1% to chemotherapy
Note: Side effects are often miscategorized as allergies, so the percentage of the population with a true immune-mediated allergy is probably much lower (AAFA, 2015).
Latex allergy statistics
- Latex allergies are often more common in healthcare workers and represent an example of occupational allergy, reaching up to 10% in this population (Journal of Occupational Health, 2016).
- In the general population, latex allergy is much less common, impacting less than 5% (Journal of Occupational Health, 2016).
- The highest risk for latex allergy is in children with spina bifida. More than three out of every five children with spina bifida are allergic to latex (AAFA, 2015)
Allergy statistics by age
- 6.5% of U.S. children have reported food allergies, 7.7% have hay fever, and 13.5% have skin allergies (National Health Interview Survey, 2018).
- Skin allergies in children seem to decrease with age: 14% among 0- to 4-year-olds, 13% among 5- to 9-year olds, 11% among 10- to 17-year-olds (CDC, 2013).
- Respiratory allergies seem to increase with age: 11% among 0- to 4-year-olds, 17% among 5- to 9-year-olds, 21% among 10- to 17-year-olds (CDC, 2013).
- Almost half (48%) of adults with a food allergy developed the allergy in adulthood (JAMA, 2019).
- In conjunction with the world’s population aging, allergies are also increasing in this population. It’s believed 5% to 10% of all reported allergies occur in seniors (Aging and Disease, 2017).
Allergy statistics in males vs. females
- Of the children with food allergies, 64% were males and 36% were females. Of the adults with food allergies, 35% were males and 65% were females (Journal of Allergy, 2009).
- In children, hay fever is more prevalent in boys (7.9%) than girls (6.4%), and other respiratory allergies are more prevalent in boys (11%) than girls (8.1%). In adults, hay fever is more prevalent in women (8.3%) than men (6.4%) (CDC, 2018).
- Men have a higher sensitivity than women to 11 common allergens including mold, ragweed, dust mites, dog dander, cat skin, egg whites, milk, peanuts, soybeans, and wheat (Quest Diagnostics, 2013).
- More females (10%) than males (6%) reported that allergies affect their quality of life (SingleCare, 2021).
- More females (26%) than males (17%) reported that allergies have triggered other health conditions (SingleCare, 2021).
- More females (17%) than males (9%) reported that allergy symptoms are painful (SingleCare, 2021).
Allergies and overall health
Allergies are the sixth leading chronic illness in the United States. Given there is no cure for allergies, they can be a great burden on the affected individual. A child with a severe peanut allergy may experience anxiety in unknown environments, or a vacation to a location with high pollen counts can be anything but relaxing.
SingleCare’s survey found that 82% of respondents with allergies reported these allergies affect their quality of life. Of the survey respondents with allergies:
- 69% reported comorbidities (co-occurring health conditions).
- 41% reported their allergies prevent them from getting a good night’s sleep.
- 41% reported their allergies have affected their mood and overall happiness.
- 34% reported that they often have to stay indoors to avoid outdoor allergens.
- 14% reported hospitalizations due to an allergic reaction.
- 14% have experienced anaphylaxis.
The cost of allergies
Many common allergy medications are available as inexpensive, generic versions. Unfortunately, the most important of all allergy medications—epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen)—recently was in the news when a manufacturer raised prices, making access to this life-saving treatment unattainable for many.
- Childhood food allergies costs reach about $25 billion each year (JAMA Pediatrics, 2013).
- Direct medical costs of allergic rhinitis are approximately $3.4 billion each year (Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, 2011).
- 61% of patients spend less than $300 per year on allergy treatments (SingleCare, 2021).
- The price of epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen) rose by 500% between 2009 and 2016 (Seven Pillars Institute, 2017).
RELATED: EpiPen alternatives
Causes of allergies
There is growing evidence that environmental factors play a key role in the regulation of immune responses associated with allergies. It’s hypothesized that interactions between genetic and environmental changes over the last several decades, including climate, pollution, diet, and other factors that modify our microbial colonization patterns, could be some of the most common causes for the fastest growth of allergies seen.
The best way to manage an allergic reaction is to prevent exposure to a known allergen altogether. Depending on the allergy this isn’t always possible. If you have hay fever, you can’t possibly avoid all grass and pollen. Meanwhile, if you know you are allergic to shellfish you can likely avoid any exposure whatsoever. While there is a growing amount of evidence surrounding desensitization, the current standard approach is to reduce your exposure and take medications to deal with allergy symptoms or abrupt reactions.
Unfortunately, allergies generally cannot be cured entirely. Understanding the best medications to use to manage allergy symptoms will improve your quality of life and alleviate concerns for developing any nasty effects. According to the SingleCare survey, 78% of survey takers with allergies reported taking allergy medicine. Of those:
- 50% reportedly take antihistamines pills like Benadryl, Zyrtec, or Allegra
- 35% use nasal sprays
- 30% use eye drops
- 26% take combination drugs such as Claritin-D, Allegra-D, and Zyrtec-D
- 20% take decongestants including Sudafed and Afrin
- 5% get allergy shots
- 5% use steroids like Rhinocort and Qvar Redihaler
- 3% use auto-injectors like EpiPens
- 2% use other medications
- 1% use mast cell stabilizers (Nasalcrom)
This is not an all-inclusive list of allergy medications. For example, some therapies are more tailored to patients based on the degree of and the number of allergies a person may have. A person with multiple allergies and severe reactions may opt for allergy shots. A person at risk for anaphylaxis may be required to carry around an epinephrine auto-injector and give themselves an intramuscular injection if a reaction or exposure occurs.
Allergy questions and answers
What percentage of the population has allergies?
With more than 50 million of the U.S. population reporting allergies, this comes out to be about 10% of the total population. Both children and adults can develop and suffer from allergies. Adolescent boys may have a slightly higher prevalence than adolescent girls, but women have a slightly higher prevalence overall than men.
How common are severe allergies?
Severe allergies are fairly common. The most severe type of allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis, has a prevalence in the general population of at least 1.6%, but likely is closer to over 5%. Anaphylaxis reactions are life-threatening events and require immediate medical care.
What is the most common allergy in the world?
Allergies in general are very common. Pollen causing hay fever and dust come in as some of the top allergens in the world. Foods, medications, and insect bites are also some of the more common allergies worldwide.
Do allergies shorten your lifespan?
Fortunately, research does not support that allergies have any impact on lifespan. However, unmanaged anaphylactic reactions are life-threatening and in the most severe cases can result in death. Understanding your own triggers and the severity of your reaction can be lifesaving.
Can allergies get worse with age?
Children with certain allergies, like food allergy reactions, may actually outgrow their allergies. However, as an adult, once you have an allergy it usually doesn’t go away on its own. Allergies can develop as an adult.
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