Is hay fever on the rise?

Allergies aren’t just unpleasant for the sufferer; they can also have serious economic implications. To mark World Allergy Week we take a look at hay fever, and some of the research underway to combat it.

Spring has finally sprung, and with it come many positives: lighter evenings, blossoming trees, bright flowers, and cute little baby animals. However, for hay fever sufferers it’s a slightly different story. Spring marks the beginning of the pollen season and also brings sneezing, sniffling and itchy eyes along with it.

Around this time every year, the World Allergy Organization campaigns to raise awareness about allergies during World Allergy Week. This year’s theme of airway allergies is particularly fitting to the season and aims to highlight the growing human and economic burden of diseases such as allergic rhinitis (which includes hay fever) and asthma.

The general consensus is that cases of allergic rhinitis are rising worldwide, particularly in developing countries which are adopting a more ‘Western’ lifestyle. Predicted to affect 400 million of the global population, allergic rhinitis is an increasing concern and burden on human lives. It can also have serious economic implications if not treated effectively. As an example, seasonal allergic rhinitis – hay fever – is said to be responsible for over 4 million sick days worldwide and will cost the British economy upwards of £300 million in lost productivity each year.

World Allergy Week
World Allergy Organization

The good news is that allergic rhinitis is treatable; a recent publication in the World Allergy Organization Journal showed that 91.4% of 2,776 patients surveyed were receiving at least one treatment (mostly oral antihistamines and intranasal corticosteroids). This research by the ISMAR study group also provides interesting information about the international management and treatment of the disease and shows that there are many similarities between the participating countries.

In children, allergic rhinitis has a social and physical impact but unfortunately is frequently ignored, or misdiagnosed as the common cold. The European Academy of Asthma and Clinical Immunology have tried to combat this by publishing guidelines on the treatment of allergic rhinitis in children. These have been put into context in this review and series of case reports, published in Clinical and Translational Allergy. The article concluded that education and training are particularly important for effective diagnosis and treatment of children and allergen avoidance is a successful disease management tactic. Where avoidance isn’t possible, treatments such as nasal corticosteroids and oral anti-histamines are effective at alleviating symptoms. Allergen-specific immunotherapy can also be explored for longer term disease-modifying treatment.

It is clear that many of the treatments which are currently available for allergic rhinitis are effective at relieving symptoms and are generally safe and well-tolerated. Much research has been conducted into producing second-generation antihistamines, which decrease drowsiness and are therefore much safer to take. However, we must look towards improving diagnosis, reducing the economic implications and increasing patient quality of life in the future, particularly as our lifestyles are contributing to an increase in the disease. Sufferers of allergic rhinitis are also much more likely to also have conditions such as asthma (40 percent of allergic rhinitis sufferers have asthma) and conjunctivitis, which further highlights the need for increased awareness about these conditions to reduce the impact they have on patients and society in general.

 

BioMed Central have recently re-launched Clinical and Molecular Allergy, which is now affiliated with the Italian Society of Allergology, Asthma and Clinical Immunology (SIAAIC) and will publish it’s first articles following a hiatus on the 15th April. Our new journal, Asthma Research and Practice is also currently open for submissions ahead of launching in June. Other relevant Allergy journals can be found here: http://www.biomedcentral.com/journals/bysubject#allergy

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