New Survey Suggests Cultural Ambivalence to Allergies Leaves Many Suffering Needlessly

Friday, March 21, 2008 General News
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KENILWORTH, N.J. and WHITEHOUSE STATION, N.J., March 20 Indoor and outdoor allergies affect about 50 millionpeople in the United States.(1)(2) Yet, according to "Attitudes AboutAllergies," a national telephone survey, allergies are often disregarded as anuisance: in today's society allergies get little respect. As a result,allergy sufferers continue to cope needlessly with not only the physicalimpact of allergies, but the emotional effects as well. The survey wascommissioned by Schering-Plough/MERCK Pharmaceuticals and conducted by HarrisInteractive(R). Three separate surveys were conducted: a survey of morethan 1,000 consumers, which included allergy sufferers and non-allergysufferers; a survey of more than 1,000 allergy sufferers only; and a survey of300 physicians.

The survey of consumers found that they view diabetes (81 percent),hypertension or high blood pressure (76 percent) and arthritis (57 percent) asmore serious than indoor and outdoor allergies. Twenty-nine percent ofconsumers said they view insomnia as more serious than indoor and outdoorallergies. In addition, while the survey of consumers found that seventy-eightpercent feel sorry for allergy sufferers, more than a third (36 percent)believe that allergy sufferers overstate the severity of their symptoms andthirty percent say allergy sufferers use allergies as an excuse to get out ofsomething.

"Allergies are often disregarded in our society, making it acceptable totell allergy sufferers to 'get on with it' and not complain," said BelindaBorrelli, PhD, associate professor, department of psychiatry and humanbehavior, Brown Medical School and The Miriam Hospital. "But allergies take anemotional toll on the sufferer. And despite that, sufferers persevere, goingto work, school and social engagements as if nothing is wrong. Many don't feellike it would be acceptable to call in sick or change plans because of theirallergies."

The survey of allergy sufferers found that about half (48 percent) feeltheir spouse or significant other does not view their allergies to be aserious health condition. Sufferers also perceive others as not taking theirallergies that seriously, saying their relatives (81 percent), friends (86percent) and co-workers (78 percent) view their allergies as a somewhatserious or not serious health condition. Even their physicians, they say, areambivalent. The survey of allergy sufferers found that nearly three quarters(74 percent) believe that their doctor views their allergies as a somewhatserious or not serious health condition.

But clearly, that's not the case. According to the survey of physicianswho treat allergies, a majority of physicians (84 percent) said in general,patients do not overstate allergy symptoms. In addition, most physicians viewinsomnia (83 percent) and osteoarthritis (69 percent) as being less serious orequally as serious as allergies. Physicians report they view diabetes (90percent) and hypertension (84 percent) as being more serious than allergies.

"Societal ambivalence toward allergies has impacted the management of thedisease," said David Lang, M.D., Section Head Allergy/Immunology RespiratoryInstitute at Cleveland Clinic. "It's true that allergies aren't lifethreatening, but they are quality of life-threatening on both physical andemotional levels."

According to the survey of allergy sufferers, only about a third (34percent) go to see a doctor for treatment when their symptoms are botheringthem.

"It's absolutely crucial for allergy sufferers to begin a dialogue withtheir physicians so that, together, they can address and overcome the barrierskeeping them from finding effective relief," said Jennifer Derebery, M.D.,clinical professor of otolaryngology at the Keck School of Medicine,University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

The survey of allergy sufferers also shed new light on the often hidde

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