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Few Treatments Exist For Common Allergies, But Symptom Management May Relieve Patient Suffering

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Press Release Date: March 19, 2003

While no studies have found effective treatments for allergic rhinitis, common allergies that affect more than 19 million U.S. workers each year, a review of the scientific literature confirms that some patients can take steps to relieve symptoms, according to a new evidence report released today by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Direct medical costs for common allergies, often caused by pollen, dust mites and pet dander, can range from $1.2 billion to $4.5 billion, with an additional $3.2 billion spent indirectly, including the cost of lost work productivity.

The report, which specifically studied management of allergic rhinitis in working adults, did not find much evidence on the direct association between allergic rhinitis and work performance. However, it noted that the physical symptoms of allergies—such as sneezing, nasal congestion, headache, poor concentration, and fatigue—may cause problems on the job for workers affected by the condition. The report, which was requested by the American Association of Health Plans, concludes that treatments that improve symptoms while minimizing side effects will likely improve work performance.

The report found evidence that some patients may find relief with simple steps. For example, those allergic to dust mites can reduce their symptoms by using bedding specifically designed to keep out the mites or by cleaning their homes more often. The evidence report also found that injections to build immunity can help reduce or eliminate symptoms for both seasonal causes, such as trees and pollen, and year-round causes, such as dust mites and cat dander. In addition, combination treatments such as antihistamines plus decongestants or antihistamines plus steroid nasal sprays work better than using any of these medications alone. The report did not find strong evidence that air filtration systems decrease symptoms.

The evidence report suggests various areas for future research, including identifying which patients are most likely to benefit from injection therapy, studying the effectiveness of longer duration combination treatments for both seasonal and year-round allergic rhinitis, and more thoroughly measuring the effectiveness of environmental controls on the reduction of symptoms. The report also calls for future studies to include more complete descriptions of the patients being studied that might identify racial or ethnic differences in the use and outcomes of treatment options.

A summary of the report, prepared for AHRQ by its Duke Evidence-based Practice Center, can be found online at and also from the National Guideline Clearinghouse™ (Select NGC Resources). Printed copies of the summary, Management of Allergic Rhinitis in the Working-Age Population, are available by calling AHRQ's Publications Clearinghouse at 1-800-358-9295 or by sending an E-mail to

For more information, please contact AHRQ Public Affairs, (301) 427-1364: Karen Carp, (301) 427-1858 (; Farah Englert (301) 427-1865 (


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