Allergies such as hay fever are reaching epidemic proportions in Europe and a failure to treat them properly is creating a mounting bill for society and the healthcare system, experts said on Friday.
Around one third of the European population has some kind of allergy, while one in two children in Britain will have allergies by 2015, costing millions of euros in medical bills, lost work days and even impaired concentration in school pupils.
Experts say various factors such as air pollution, animal fur and dust mites could act as triggers for allergies but that the levels of allergic reaction vary from country to country.
“There is an epidemic of allergic disease in Europe and elsewhere in the world,” Peter Burney, vice president of research at the Global Allergy and Asthma European Network (GALEN), told reporters on Friday.
Allergies were most prevalent in Britain and Ireland, as well as other English speaking countries like Canada, Australia and the United States, Burney said, adding they were also becoming more widespread in new European Union member states.
“It’s not a problem which is going to go away soon,” he added, noting that as allergy sufferers get older the complications resulting from their condition tend to get worse.
“We have data showing that up to the age of 55, people do not lose their allergies, but that the complications are greater,” he said. “This is a serious problem.”
Failure to treat allergies could also increase the risk of patients developing asthma later in life, GALEN’s general secretary Torsten Zuberbier said, calling for early diagnosis and treatment of sufferers.
“We have valid data that one third of European Union people have allergies but only 10 percent of these millions of people are treated well,” Zuberbier said, adding that around 40 percent of children with untreated hay fever will develop asthma.
“We need early treatment in children and we can avoid the large burden of social and economic costs,” he said.
The GALEN network has established standard practice across Europe in diagnosing allergies and it has now begun to draw up guidelines on how best to treat the conditions.
Revision date: June 22, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD