First coined by Clemens von Pirquet in 1906, the term ‘allergy’ draws attention to the specific propensity of sufferers who develop a negative reaction and harmful symptoms when exposed to certain substances. According to the Centers for Disease Control, it is estimated that 50+ million people in the United States have allergies. Allergic conditions, such as hay fever, asthma, eczema, and anaphylaxis, afflict roughly 25% of the entire global population.
Over the past 50 years, the rates of allergy sufferers have increased exponentially; it has become a common, everyday occurrence to interact with someone at work, school, or family member that has some sort of allergy to pets, dust, hay fever, or food. These anecdotal observations are indicative of the far and wide reach allergies have created; however, often unnoticed and positioned behind the rows of remedies, sniffles, and need for immediate treatment, is the negative impact allergies have on our economy.
Lack of medical attention leads to future complications
As with most medical concerns and common health issues, those who suffer initial mild allergic reactions to mold, pollen, pets, and others are at risk of worsening and festering their condition from lengthy exposure.
When a person’s immune system is continually unprotected and open to hostile elements, it creates an intensified and stronger allergic reaction over time. Infections impacting the skin, sinuses, and lungs are at risk of escalated allergen attacks if no medical treatment or attention is provided, causing further damage and health detriments.
Seemingly minor conditions may escalate, including sinus infections, when airborne irritations like mold, dust mites, and pollen affect the respiratory system. These can lead to fever, congestion, and sinusitis. Increased severity arises should the condition remain neglected: a dysregulation of the immune system can create gateways for bacteria which, in turn, create more serious medical scenarios such as hospital stays or even surgeries.
Tangential effects of failure to treat allergies include chronic sleep problems, poor focus at work and at school, and emotional and mood instability. The simple reality is that left unchecked for extended periods of time, patients will experience aggravated symptoms with the potential for serious harm and long-term health consequences.
The hidden impact and cost of allergies
Although not often recognized as a serious concern by businesses and employers, allergies cost an estimated4 million days of missed work per year due to related sickness and are the cause of a 21% drop in productivity.
In its aggregate, the economic weight carried by allergy sufferers is enormous: a Hewitt Associates study found that increased absenteeism and reduced productivity due to allergies cost U.S. companies more than $250 million. For employers and businesses, this is a drain on productivity, increases absences, and is a serious financial burden.
Considering that allergy and asthma often occur together, the same triggers that affect hay fever, and allergic rhinitis, such as pollen, dust mites, and pet dander, can also trigger asthma inflammation. The CDC estimates asthma costs the U.S. economy in excess of $80 billion per year in medical expenses, days missed from school and work, and even related deaths. Furthermore, the National Library of Medicine reports that asthma was responsible for $3 billion in economic losses because of missed work and school days, $29 billion from asthma-related deaths, and $50.3 billion in medical costs.
Effective treatment pays extended benefits
A direct correlation exists between effective allergy treatment and improved aggregate economic potential. Healthier workers are more likely to show up for work—and, once present—will have the necessary and alert faculties to perform required responsibilities, be more productive, and be in better physical and mental condition.
Taken further, and should this phenomenon broaden, it helps shore up a vital component for a stronger economy, incentives for job creation, increased pay, as well as opportunities for long-term savings; the health of a population, free from the largescale burdens of allergy suffering, can play a pivotal role in economic outcomes. Healthier communities bounce back from setbacks as they have faster access to employment, public services, and income growth. This is especially true in areas affected by unexpected economic downturns, job loss, or due to the global pandemic.
Access and availability to treatments that offer evidence-based medicine; streamlined workflow procedures across multiple systems and geographic locations; as well as utilizing population health metrics to identify areas in a demographic area that need specific attention for allergy treatment are useful tools to help keep a community healthy and reduce allergy suffering.
The impact allergies have on our overall economy is an ongoing issue with stark and long-lasting consequences. Understanding the concern and recognizing its severity is an important first step; creating access to innovative and patient-focused allergy services is a needed secondary component. Ultimately, these actions will help reduce allergy suffering for countless and help provide a foundation for a steady and solid economy as well as improve a community’s potential for a promising future.
Dr. John Anderson is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and Staff Allergist at the Veteran’s Administration in Birmingham, Alabama. He is a partner and serves as the Chief Research Officer for AllerVie Health and AllerVie Clinical Research. Dr. Anderson received his medical degree from the Ohio State University College of Medicine in Columbus, Ohio. He trained at UAB School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital in Birmingham for his internal medicine residency and fellowship in adult and pediatric allergy and immunology. He is board-certified in internal medicine and allergy/immunology. Dr. Anderson has a special interest in asthma, primary immune deficiency, hereditary angioedema, urticaria, and angioedema. He is a member of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI) and fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI).