After decades of rises, rates of eczema and hay fever in Britain have stabilised but allergic reactions to food have soared, according to new research published on Thursday.
Although rates of eczema and hay fever in children had more than trebled in the past three decades scientists at the University of Edinburgh said hospital admissions and visits to doctors for both have levelled or fallen since 1995.
“Taken together, these patterns of prevalence, prescribing and healthcare use suggest a rise in eczema and hay fever in recent decades with a stabilisation more recently,” said Professor Aziz Sheikh, who headed the research team. He added that improvements in treatments over time may have contributed to the decline in eczema and hay fever.
The researchers compiled the time trends analysis on the rates of illness and death from national surveys and data, as well as information from doctors, hospitals and pharmacists for allergic ailments, excluding asthma.
The findings, published in the journal Thorax, revealed that hospital admissions for anaphylaxis or serious allergic reactions, had risen by 700 percent and food allergies by 500 percent since 1990.
Prescriptions for these allergies have also increased since 1991.
In 2004 there were about 3,000 hospital admissions for anaphylaxis compared to 415 hospital cases in 1991-92.
“They are very dramatic increases,” Sheikh said. There were 12 deaths from anaphylaxis from 1991 to 1995 but the researchers said it is likely to be an underestimate because some deaths from allergic reactions may be recorded as being caused by asthma.
They called for further studies and said ongoing surveillance will help healthcare systems anticipate and deal with allergies.
Revision date: July 3, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.