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Allergy: An underestimated disease – Interdisciplinary study by UNIKA-T

Research: Projects and Publications

20.02.2019

The number of allergic patients significantly rises in industrialized regions throughout the world. Climate change, quality of life, air pollution and many other factors have been thought as responsible. Allergy research is one core topic at UNIKA-T, and the question therefore remains whether allergy is seriously considered a chronic disease by society and science. Do allergic patients attain the correct behaviour towards their own disease, for example by consultation of a medical doctor, prescription of the suitable medication, or by being well-informed through environmental health services?

To answer the above questions and many more, researchers from the UNIKA-T Chairs “Health Care Operations/Health Information Management” and “Environmental Medicine” have investigated the health behavior of allergic individuals in Augsburg. The study results have been recently published in the journal “Aerobiologia” under the title “Pollen allergy and health behaviour: patients trivializing their disease“. More information on the publication can be read here.

Study Methods:

679 allergics in the region of Augsburg participated in a survey in 2016, for which a questionnaire was developed with regards to pollen allergy. The questions were about health behavior, medication, and other factors. The questionnaire was divided into seven topics:

  • gender, age, and education level (demographic data)
  • allergen type, symptom severity, frequency of symptoms
  • avoidance strategies (room ventilation, outside stays, showering)
  • medical consultation (allergy diagnosis, prescription)
  • knowledge about and use of pollen information services (e. g. on UNIKA-T website)
  • effect of symptoms (level, limitations, loss in productivity)
  • personal attitude towards allergies (chronic, severe or trivial disease)

 

Study Results (choice):

  • About 10 % of the atopic people do not know the cause of their allergy; about a fifth had no allergy testing yet despite showing symptoms. However, more than 85 % of the study participants take medicine against allergies on a regular basis.
  • Women sooner consult their medical doctor, especially when symptom severity rises, and thus receive their individual medication in due time.
  • Women register a stronger negative effect of allergies on their social life and productivity rate at work.
  • A correlation shows: the more years an allergic individual suffers from symptoms and the more severe these symptoms get, the more avoidance strategies this person tends to use.
  • About 73 % of all the questionnaire participants took medicine against their allergy symptoms on a regular basis; more than half of them without medical consultation.
  • 70 % of study participants have never used information on pollen flight before and were not aware at all that these information services are available.
  • Not more than 30 % of the allergic patients makes use of an (allergen) specific immunotherapy, although this therapy represents the only causative therapy form at the moment that may eventually resolve an allergy.

 

Core Problem:

Despite the worldwide increase in frequency and symptom severity of allergic diseases and the consequent impacts on health and socio-economics, still, until today, many allergic individuals neglect, underestimate, and inappropriately treat their disease.

 

Solution Option:

The authors suggest that appropriate education of allergic individuals will contribute to the solution of the problem. A personalized medicine and the use of real-time pollen information services through mobile apps must be considered the most appropriate approach to reach the best possible management of allergies: prevention.

 

Info Box 1 - Allergen-Specific Immunotherapy:

If allergic patients consult a doctor, the prescription of specific drugs in accordance with the respective allergy form and symptom severity becomes possible. Some allergies cause additional diseases – such as urticaria against which steroids may help that are available on prescription. The allergen specific immunotherapy is the only causative therapy against pollen allergies. This costs for this therapy are usually covered by health insurance. Its use reduces symptoms and helps the body to develop a permanent tolerance against specific allergens.

 

Info Box 2 - UNIKA-T Web Information Service on Pollen Flight:

The UNIKA-T is operating a pollen super site in Augsburg and publishes its data about pollen flight on the website “www.unika-t.de/pollenflug”. By the help of this information, allergic patients can decide on whether leisure activities outdoors can be undertaken, whether they need to avoid exposure instead by staying indoors, or whether the appropriate medication helps.

 

Follow environmental medicine at UNIKA-T on twitter:

@UNIKAT_IEM

@Traidl_Hoffmann

 

medical consultation and discussion of study results shutterstock 250522252Medical consultation and discussion of study results. (photo: Shutterstock)

Entstehung von Pollen Allergien shutterstock 277938902This overview graphic shows very simplified the onset of an allergy. (graph: Shutterstock)