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The 2021 allergy survey: How do allergies affect quality of life?

We surveyed 2,000 Americans on allergy triggers, symptoms, and treatments. Here's what we found.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) defines an allergy as an immune system reaction to a foreign substance (allergen). A reaction could occur after an allergen is eaten, inhaled, injected, or touched. Allergic reactions vary from ear, nose, and throat symptoms to skin and gastrointestinal problems. For National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month, SingleCare conducted a survey of 2,000 adults to learn more about common allergies in the U.S. and how they affect the quality of life for Americans today.

Key findings of our allergy survey:

RELATED: See allergy statistics in males and females | See allergy statistics by age

59% have allergies

Allergies are common with more than 50 million Americans experiencing allergies each year. It’s the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the United States. More than half (59%) of the 2,000 survey respondents reported having some type of allergy. Of those with allergies:

  • 44% have pollen allergies (includes grass and seasonal allergies)
  • 15% have a drug allergy
  • 14% have a mold allergy
  • 12% have a pet allergy
  • 11% have a food allergy
  • 7% have an insect allergy
  • 5% have a latex allergy
  • 3% have an allergy not listed above (chemicals, dust)

Chart illustrating the most common allergies

Penicillin and antibiotics are the most common drug allergy

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI) lists the following types of medications as the most common drugs to produce allergic reactions. It explains that the likelihood of developing drug allergies is higher when a medication is taken frequently, when it is applied to the skin, or given by injection rather than taken orally. Of the survey takers with a drug allergy, penicillin and related antibiotics were the most common.

  • 18% are allergic to penicillin and related antibiotics
  • 12% are allergic to drugs not listed
  • 10% are allergic to antibiotics containing sulfonamides (sulfa drugs)
  • 7% are allergic to aspirin, ibuprofen, and other NSAIDs
  • 2% are allergic to anticonvulsants
  • 1% are allergic to chemotherapy drugs

Drug allergies were most commonly reported by respondents 65 years old and older (17%) and females (19%). Of the respondents who reported having a drug allergy, 35% also reported they had asthma and 60% also reported they have had anaphylaxis. Two-thirds (36%) of those with a drug allergy believe that limiting unnecessary use of antibiotics could improve the allergy epidemic.

14% have experienced anaphylaxis

Eye reactions to allergens were the most commonly reported symptoms in our allergy survey followed by nasal allergies, sinusitis, and skin reactions. Fourteen percent of respondents also reported having anaphylaxis, which is a serious, life-threatening allergic reaction most commonly as a result of food, insect stings, drugs, and latex allergies. This type of reaction can affect multiple parts of the body at once and requires immediate medical treatment. It is typically treated with an injection of epinephrine (EpiPen).

  • 67% experience eye allergies (itchy, watery eyes; tearing; irritation of the eyes)
  • 58% experience rhinitis/nasal allergies (itchy, runny nose; sneezing; congestion)
  • 47% experience sinusitis (postnasal drip; congestion; swelling around the eyes, cheeks, nose, forehead; reduced taste or smell)
  • 46% experience skin allergies (rashes, hives, blistering, itching, swelling)
  • 15% experience GI symptoms (stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, bloating)
  • 14% experience anaphylaxis (skin allergies; swelling of lips, tongue, throat; trouble breathing; GI symptoms; a sense of impending doom)
  • 8% do not experience any of the listed allergic reactions
  • 2% experience other allergic reactions (asthma attacks, chronic coughing, ulcers, dry eye)

A separate study by the AAFA found that anaphylaxis is common as it occurs in 1 in 50 Americans but most likely closer to 1 in 20 adults. However, this AAFA also reported that most patients are underprepared for this type of reaction. People with allergies, asthma, and/or a family history of anaphylaxis are at a higher risk for anaphylaxis, and those who have experienced anaphylaxis are at an increased risk of having another anaphylaxis reaction. It’s important for at-risk individuals to always carry injectable epinephrine with them, know how to use it properly, and have an emergency action plan in the event of a serious allergic reaction.

Chart illustrating the most common types of allergic reactions and allergy symptoms

14% have been hospitalized due to an allergic reaction

Fourteen percent of survey respondents with an allergy have been hospitalized due to an allergic reaction. Drug, insect stings, food, and pollen were the most common types of allergies reported to cause hospitalization.

  • 5% have been hospitalized due to drug allergy
  • 3% have been hospitalized due to an insect allergy
  • 2% have been hospitalized due to a food allergy
  • 2% have been hospitalized due to a pollen allergy
  • 1% have been hospitalized due to an allergy not listed here
  • 1% have been hospitalized due to a latex allergy
  • 1% have been hospitalized due to a mold allergy
  • <1% have been hospitalized due to a pet allergy

There are many different symptoms of an allergic reaction, but if any are severe or affect multiple parts of the body, it’s best to seek emergency care, particularly in cases where hives spread across the body or if breathing problems occur.

69% have a co-occurring health condition with or because of allergies

Chronic allergies can trigger other health problems. Clogged sinuses can cause inflammation and infection. Persistent symptoms can keep people awake at night and cause fatigue, leading to many other physical and mental health problems. More than two-thirds of respondents with allergies reported comorbidities. Hay fever, sinusitis, and fatigue were the most common.

  • 33% have hay fever/allergic rhinitis
  • 27% have sinusitis
  • 23% have fatigue
  • 16% have asthma
  • 16% have depression
  • 12% have eczema
  • 11% have rhinitis (nonallergic)
  • 10% have disordered sleep
  • 9% have lactose intolerance
  • 3% have anaphylaxis
  • 2% have oral allergy syndrome
  • 1% have celiac disease
  • 1% have other conditions not listed
  • <1% have eosinophilic esophagitis

82% report allergies affect their quality of life

Dealing with allergy symptoms and avoiding allergens can also affect a person’s mood and quality of life. The majority of survey takers with allergies reported that their symptoms affect their quality of life to some degree.

  • 8% report allergies significantly affect their quality of life
  • 22% report allergies moderately affect their quality of life
  • 33% report allergies mildly affect their quality of life
  • 19% report allergies rarely affect their quality of life
  • 18% report allergies do not affect their quality of life

Chart illustrating how allergies affect people's quality of life

41% report allergies affect their sleep and overall mood

Forty-one percent of respondents reported that allergy symptoms affect their sleep and mood. Avoiding allergens can also be extremely limiting. For example, 34% of respondents reported they often have to stay indoors, 6% avoid traveling, and 4% eat meals away from other people all because of allergies. Of those who reported that allergies affect their quality of life:

  • 41% report allergy symptoms prevent them from getting a good night’s sleep
  • 41% report allergies have affected their mood and overall happiness
  • 34% report they often have to stay indoors to avoid outdoor allergens
  • 22% report allergies have triggered other health conditions
  • 19% report allergy symptoms prevent them from being productive at work
  • 13% report their allergy symptoms are painful
  • 13% report other or no effects of allergies on everyday life
  • 6% report they avoid traveling because of allergies
  • 6% report they are uncomfortable on airplanes because of allergies
  • 4% report they have to eat meals away from other people because of allergies
  • 3% report they have been bullied for their allergies

78% take allergy medicine; 50% of which take antihistamines

Three-quarters of respondents with allergies take some type of allergy medicine. Antihistamine pills were the most common allergy medicine among survey takers, followed by nasal spray and eye drops.

  • 50% take antihistamine pills (Benadryl, Zyrtec, Allegra)
  • 35% use nasal sprays
  • 30% use eye drops
  • 26% take combination drugs (Claritin-D, Allegra-D, Zyrtec-D)
  • 20% take decongestants (Sudafed, Afrin)
  • 5% get allergy shots
  • 5% use steroids (Rhinocort, Qvar Redihaler)
  • 3% use auto-injectors (EpiPen)
  • 2% use other medications
  • 1% use mast cell stabilizers (Nasalcrom)

RELATED: Is it safe to take antihistamines every day?

Chart illustrating the most popular allergy medicine

61% spend less than $300 per year on allergy treatments

Many common allergy medications are available over-the-counter with inexpensive, generic versions available. Prescription-strength allergy medicine, allergy shots, and auto-injectors are typically the more expensive treatments, which aren’t as commonly taken as OTC options. Of those who take allergy medicine:

  • 9% spend $0
  • 61% spend less than $25 per month
  • 17% spend $25-$50 per month
  • 6% spend $51-$75 per month
  • 3% spend $76-$100 per month
  • 2% spend $101-$200 per month
  • 1% spend $201-$300 per month
  • <1% spend more than $301 per month

60% believe interventions could be used to improve the allergy epidemic

The prevalence of allergies is on the rise and a leading theory is the hygiene hypothesis, according to the AAAI. This theory suggests that today’s living conditions are too clean and if children aren’t exposed to germs, their immune systems won’t know the difference between harmless versus harmful irritants. Thirty percent of survey takers with allergies seem to agree with this theory as they reported that limiting the use of harsh chemicals and cleaning products could help improve the allergy epidemic. There are many other factors that researchers are taking into account, including the ones listed below, which we asked our survey respondents about.

  • 30% believe in limiting the use of harsh chemicals/antibacterial cleaning products
  • 28% believe in limiting unnecessary or incorrect use of antibiotics
  • 24% believe in enforcing stricter inspections of homes, schools, and businesses for mold
  • 24% believe in limiting the use of fossil fuels and switching to clean energy alternatives
  • 24% believe in enforcing clearer food labeling
  • 23% believe in exposing children to allergens earlier in life
  • 17% believe in offering healthier anti-inflammatory school lunches to children
  • 12% believe in improving baby formula to include probiotics and prebiotics
  • 6% believe in reducing unnecessary Cesarean births
  • 3% believe in other interventions

11% mistook COVID-19 symptoms and allergy symptoms in the past year

The novel coronavirus caused a lot of confusion as its symptoms mimicked those of other respiratory conditions. Many people with COVID-19 experience a cough, fatigue, loss of taste and smell, and shortness of breath, all of which are also common allergy symptoms. As a result, about 1 in 10 survey respondents with allergies reportedly confused their symptoms for COVID-19. Of those who mistook COVID and allergy symptoms in the past year:

  • 70% believed they had COVID-19 but they actually had allergies
  • 30% believed they had allergies but they actually had COVID-19

Allergy statistics in females and males

All types of allergies were more commonly reported in females than males.

Females Males
Drug allergy 19% 10%
Food allergy 13% 8%
Insect allergy 8% 5%
Latex allergy 6% 3%
Mold allergy 15% 12%
Pet allergy 14% 11%
Pollen allergy 45% 43%
Other 4% 2%

More females (9.8%) than males (5.9%) reported that allergies significantly affect their quality of life. More females (26.1%) than males (16.9%) reported that allergies have triggered other health conditions. More females (17.2%) than males (8.8%) also reported that allergy symptoms are painful.

More males (42.2%) than females (40.9%) reported allergies prevent them from being productive at work. More males (4.2%) than females (2.6%) also reported being bullied for their allergies.

Females more commonly take antihistamines than males; whereas more males than females take decongestants for allergy symptoms.

Allergy statistics by age

People can develop allergies at all ages, even through adulthood. In fact, pollen allergies were most commonly reported by 45- to 54-year-olds.

  • Food allergies were most commonly reported by respondents 18-24 years old (18%)
  • Pet allergies were most commonly reported by respondents 25-34 years old (16%)
  • Latex allergies were most commonly reported by respondents 35-44 years old (6%)
  • Pollen allergies were most commonly reported by respondents 45-54 years old (51%)
  • Drug allergies were most commonly reported by respondents 65+ years old (17%)

The severity of allergies can also affect some ages more than others:

  • 50% of 18- to 24-year-olds reported that allergies have a rare to mild impact on their quality of life.
  • 38% of 35- to 44-year-olds reported that allergies have a moderate to significant impact on their quality of life.
  • 55% of 55- to 65-year-olds reported that allergies have a mild to moderate impact on their quality of life.

The use of allergy medicine also varies across age groups:

  • Eye drops were most commonly reported by seniors 65+ years of age.
  • Steroids and decongestants were most commonly reported by 45- to 54-year-olds.
  • Combination drugs, allergy shots were most commonly reported by 35- to 44-year-olds.
  • Auto-injectors were most commonly reported by 18- to 24-year-olds.
  • A third of 18- to 24-year-olds reportedly do not take allergy medicine.
Most common allergy medicine by age group
18-24 25-34 35-44 45-54 55-64 65+
Eye drops 21% 26% 29% 34% 30% 37%
Steroids 2% 4% 6% 7% 3% 5%
Decongestants 7% 22% 19% 27% 20% 21%
Combination drugs 19% 31% 34% 30% 26% 16%
Allergy shots 7% 5% 8% 5% 4% 4%
Auto-injectors 5% 2% 4% 3% 2% 1%
I do not take allergy medicine 34% 21% 17% 19% 25% 21%

Additionally, younger respondents (18 to 44-year-olds) were more likely to mistake COVID-19 and allergy symptoms than older respondents (45+ years old).

Our methodology

SingleCare conducted this allergy survey online through AYTM on May 3, 2021. This survey includes 2,000 United States adults ages 18+. Age and gender were census-balanced to match the U.S. population in age, gender, and U.S. region.