U.S. Allergy Season Worse Than Usual

U.S. Allergy Season Worse Than Usual

by Lymari Morales

Nearly one in five Americans had allergies in March

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Gallup-Healthways data confirm that the U.S. is in the midst of a stronger-than-usual spring allergy season, likely spurred by the unseasonably warm winter. More Americans report being sick with allergies on any given day so far this April (22.8%) than in April 2011 (20.8%) and April 2010 (21.8%), and even during the peak of allergy season last year, when 22.1% reported allergies in May. The 19.6% of Americans who reported allergies in March this year is closer to the rate usually seen in April and May of past years, suggesting allergy season arrived earlier than usual.

allergy trend since 2010

The results are based on Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index daily tracking surveys that have asked U.S. adults, "Were you sick with allergies yesterday?" every day since September 2008, with about 30,000 interviews per month. The findings provide a real-time gauge of how many American adults report being sick with allergies at a given time of year. The data confirm that the unusually high pollen counts recorded in many areas across the country in March and April have in fact triggered an increase in self-reported allergies.

On average, more Americans have reported being sick with allergies on a given day in every month of 2012 so far than Gallup has found in the same months of previous years. The March rate of 19.6% is significantly higher than the March rate seen in March of previous years, including 16.5% in 2011. This year's January and February rates, 12.5% and 13.7%, respectively, were slightly higher than the rates seen in 2011.

It is important to note that these results reflect respondents' self-reports of allergies rather than an official medical diagnosis -- and that Americans who treat their allergies with medication and thus are not "sick" with allergies may not be included. Further, the estimates could be higher or lower than actual rates if allergies are mistaken for a cold or the flu or vice versa. Interestingly, Gallup-Healthways tracking of self-reports of the flu and colds does not reveal an atypical season this year, as seen in the allergy rates.

Bottom Line

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index data make clear that allergies are affecting more Americans so far this spring than in recent years. The percentage of U.S. adults who reported being sick with allergies on a given day this March far exceeded the March rate of a year ago. The rate seen so far in April is also higher than the April rates of previous years. These increases in ratings are likely the result of pollen and allergens arriving ahead of schedule because of the warmer winter, as well as Americans spending more time outside than is typical for these months. It is also possible that media reports of worsened allergies have elevated Americans' self-reports of allergies.

While it may be difficult for sufferers and medical professional alike to distinguish the symptoms of allergies from colds, the flu, asthma, and other illnesses with similar effects, it is worth noting that self-reports of allergies are up this year, while self-reports of the flu and colds are not. It is also possible that the warmer weather has caused some Americans to misdiagnose a typical cold or the flu as allergies.

What remains unclear at this time is whether this U.S. allergy season will peak in April -- as it did in 2010 -- or in May -- as it did in 2009 and 2011. After that, allergy rates should subside for the summer before increasing again in the fall. It is also important to note that on any given day throughout the year, at least one in 10 U.S. adults reports being sick with allergies.

About the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index tracks wellbeing in the U.S., U.K., and Germany and provides best-in-class solutions for a healthier world. To learn more, please visit well-beingindex.com.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey, with a random sample of approximately 30,000 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling. The results for March reflect 31,283 interviews conducted March 1-31, 2011. The results for April reflect 14,093 interviews conducted through April 16, 2012.

For results based on the monthly sample for March, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±0.6 percentage points.

For results based on the mid-month sample for April, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±0.9 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.

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