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Community Health Data Base
An Information Service of the Philadelphia Health Management Corporation

Allergies and Asthma on the Rise
Monday. June 2, 2003


Many persons suffer from the bothersome and often severe effects of allergies and asthma. These conditions are frequently exasperated during this time of year. Allergies and asthma can have a substantial impact on the health and well being of the individual and can pose
significant economic strain on the family, the health care system and industry. The following article examines the prevalence of allergies and asthma among children (0-17) and adults (18+) in Southeastern Pennsylvania using data from PHMC' s 2002 Southeastern Pennsylvania Household Health Survey.


Allergy is defined as a "harmful, increased susceptibility to a specific substance," also known as hypersensitivity. Allergic diseases are the sixth leading cause of chronic disease in the United States. Approximately 20 percent of the U.S. population suffers from allergic diseases and it is estimated that in 1998, increased absenteeism and reduced productivity due to allergies cost U.S. companies more than $250 million. (American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology)

 In Southeastern Pennsylvania, one-quarter of children and one-third of adults have self-reported allergies, representing approximately 233,800 children and 950,300 adults.

 The percentage of children with allergies has increased from 19.4% in 1991 to 24.5% in 2002; the percentage of allergic adults has also increased from 25.5% in 1991 to 33.1% in 2002.

 Sixty percent of children are currently taking prescription medications for their allergies.

 The percentage of residents (children and adults) with allergies is largely the same in each of the Southeastern Pennsylvania counties (approximately 30%), with a slightly higher percentage in Delaware County (33.5%).
 White (31.3%) and African American (31.8%) residents are more likely than Latino (27.7%) and Asian (24.2%) residents to have allergies.

 Poor and nonpoor residents are equally as likely to have allergies (30.5% and 31.0%, respectively).

 Residents with allergies (19.0%) are more likely than those without allergies (14.7%) to report that their health is fair or poor.

 Nearly one-quarter of a million (234,300) Southeastern Pennsylvania residents who have allergies also have asthma.


Asthma is a chronic, inflammatory lung disease characterized by recurrent breathing problems. Episodes of asthma are triggered by allergens, infection, exercise, cold air and other factors. More than 17 million Americans are currently estimated to have asthma. Asthma is responsible for approximately 500,000 hospitalizations and more than 5,000 deaths annually. More than 14 million school days are missed annually due to asthma and it is the leading cause of work loss for adults, accounting for an estimated three million lost workdays per year. (American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology)

 In Southeastern Pennsylvania, one out of nine children (104,800) and one out of twelve adults (249,000) have asthma.

 The percentage of children with asthma has dramatically increased from 6.5% in 1991 to 10.9% in 2002. Likewise, the percentage of adults with asthma has increased from 4.8% in 1991 to 8.0% in 2002.

 Nearly 90 percent of children and 75 percent of adults are currently taking prescription medications for their asthma.

 Forty-two percent of children with asthma had at least one emergency department visit in the past year because of their asthma.

 Greater than one out of three persons with asthma (35.2%) lives in a household where someone smokes cigarettes, cigars or pipes.

 Residents in Philadelphia are most likely to have asthma (10.9%) compared to residents in the suburban Southeastern Pennsylvania counties. Residents of Montgomery County are least likely to have asthma (7.4%).

 Boys younger than 17 are more likely than girls to have asthma (12.1% and 9.7%, respectively); however, adult men are less likely than adult women to have asthma (6.6% and 10.4%, respectively).

 Examining across race/ethnicity, Latinos are most likely to have asthma (13.9%) compared to African Americans (12.5%), whites (8.1%) and Asians (3.3%).

 Residents living at or below the federal poverty line are nearly twice as likely to have asthma as the nonpoor (16.1% and 8.3%, respectively).

 The uninsured (9.7%) are only slightly more likely than the insured (9.2%) to have asthma, yet this represents 24,000 asthmatic persons who have no health care coverage.

 A much greater percentage of residents with asthma than without asthma report that their health is fair or poor (35.1% and 14.1%, respectively).

As the above findings indicate, the prevalence of allergies and asthma has increased dramatically over the past decade among children and adults in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Although highly treatable, both conditions can cause serious health and financial problems. This is especially true for individuals who are poor and uninsured and less likely to receive the quality and continuity of care needed to monitor and treat chronic health conditions. More needs to be done at the local and national levels to reverse the trend of increased allergies and asthma and to support individuals who have these conditions with proper and timely treatment. For more information about the above findings, contact Ilisa Stalberg at (215) 985-6238 or

Please visit the following websites:

CHDB Data Analysis Tool at
Overview of Chronic Health Conditions in Southeastern Pennsylvania at
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology at

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