New Insights into Allergy Relief

What Works: Patient Education, Frequent House Cleaning, Mattress Covers, Injections, Combination Allergy Medications

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March 26, 2003 -- Pollen, dust mites, dog allergies, cat allergies -- they plague millions of people. While billions of dollars are spent on allergy medications, a new study shows much can be done to improve symptoms in allergy suffers.

Direct medical costs for common allergies can range from $1.2 to $4.5 billion, with an additional $3.2 billion in time off from work and lost productivity. The study notes that the physical symptoms of allergies -- such as sneezing, nasal congestion, headache, poor concentration, and fatigue -- may cause problems on the job.

The study appears in a new report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Symptoms can impact a worker's ability to function properly, with "mild to seriously debilitating effects on social, physical, and emotional functioning," the report states. Allergy symptoms may interfere with thinking, may impair work performance, and may cause work absence, it adds. But it concludes that treatment of symptoms will likely improve work performance.

Nearly all of 60 clinical trials looking at allergy medications show that injections or immunotherapy (to build immunity) are favorable to placebo in reducing symptoms associated with seasonal allergies, dust mites, and dander responsible for cat allergies.

A combination allergy medication treatment involving antihistamines and decongestants also has been well studied and shows "greater improvement" in all symptoms -- especially sneezing and runny nose -- than either treatment alone. Adding steroid nasal sprays to antihistamines showed a greater improvement in nasal symptoms than antihistamines alone.

The report did not find much evidence that air filtration systems reduce allergy symptoms.

However, people can find some relief through simple steps -- like using special bedding designed to keep out dust mites. It also helps to clean their houses more often to reduce dander that cause cat allergies and dog allergies, the report states.

The study also looked to see whether differences in treatment and outcomes depended on whether the condition was treated by a generalist or specialist. It did find that generalists were less than adequate in their knowledge about allergy treatment. They also found that a combination of patient education and medication improved allergy symptoms more than medication alone.

SOURCE: Evidence report: "Management of Allergic Rhinitis in the Working-Age Population," Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

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