Allergy cases have risen dramatically around the world over the last 40 years and health-care organizations need to direct more resources to curb this growing health problem, an international allergy organization said Wednesday.

In its first ever report on worldwide rates of allergy and other chronic respiratory diseases, the World Allergy Organization (WAO) said that as allergy and asthma rates are on the rise, the number of health-care professionals who can diagnose and treat these illnesses has remained stagnant.

According to the report, worldwide asthma rates have increased 50 per cent each decade for the last 40 years. And the report said that as many as "20 per cent to 25 per cent of the population of every developed nation will develop some sort of allergic disease."

However, a WAO survey of member organizations from 33 countries showed that only about 16,000 trained allergists are available for an estimated 1.3 billion people, about 22 per cent of whom have an allergic disease.

"This first State of World Allergy Report presents a concerning picture of the rising prevalence of all types of allergic diseases, such as allergic asthma, food allergies, anaphylaxis and rhinoconjunctivitis," G. Walter Canonica, one of the report's authors and president of the WAO, said in a statement.

"However, health-care resources are not increasing commensurately; there is a pressing need for improved access worldwide to licensed allergy medications."

The report said many factors are contributing to the rising asthma and allergy rates, including:

  • climate change
  • more stringent hygiene standards
  • the industrialization of developing countries
  • new natural and synthetic substances in the environment

The report's authors suspect that these factors will all remain significant contributors to the growing asthma and allergy rates in the coming years.

"A consequence of the anticipated increase in allergic diseases is that the present inadequacy in the training of physicians in the diagnosis and treatment of allergy and asthma must be addressed," the report's authors said.

The report pays particular attention to the highly populated and rapidly industrializing Asia-Pacific region. A breakdown of the area's allergy and asthma rates showed:

  • Asthma rates have increased from 0.8 per cent to 29.1 per cent and incidences of allergic rhinitis have increased from five to 45 per cent.
  • Almost 30 per cent of adults and almost 40 per cent of children with asthma report that the illness has kept them from work or school.

According to the report, 400 million people worldwide have allergic rhinitis (an inflammation of the nasal passages that create mucus) and 300 million people have asthma (a chronic inflammation of the airways). Of the asthma sufferers, half live in developing nations and therefore do not have access to medications that can control the condition.

As well, the report estimates that the economic cost of allergic rhinitis and asthma is greater than that of tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. About US$20 billion is spent worldwide each year on medications, doctor visits and lost work productivity related to allergic rhinitis alone.

The WAO is an international umbrella organization with almost 80 regional and national allergy and clinical immunology societies as members.


Abstract:

It is widely recognized that the incidence of allergies and allergic diseases is on the rise globally. As an international umbrella organization for regional and national allergy and clinical immunology societies, the World Allergy Organization is at the forefront of a combined united effort across nations and organizations to address this global concern by promoting the science of allergy and clinical immunology, and advancing exchange of information.

The World Allergy Organization's State of World Allergy Reports will provide a biennial review of allergic diseases worldwide, consider their medical and socioeconomic contexts, and propose effective approaches to addressing these problems.

In this first State of World Allergy Report 2008, experts from different regions of the world have attempted to define the extent of the global allergy problem, examine recent trends, and provide a framework for the collaboration among world medicine, science, and government agencies that is needed to address the rapidly developing issues associated with allergy and allergic diseases.