Blue Cross study shows drastic increase in severe allergy trips to the emergency room

Local News

A new seven-year study of medical claims that emergency room visits from anaphylaxis to food and other allergens spiked 150 percent from 2010 through 2016.

According to the study done by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) Health of America Report, children diagnosed as susceptible to an anaphylaxis episode increased 104 percent during the study period, rising from 23 per 10,000 children in 2010 to 47 per 10,000 children in 2016.

“Although they are—thankfully—rare, there has been quite an increase in serious allergic reactions,” said Dr. Vindell Washington, chief medical officer at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana.

The study analyzes medical claims to guage how many young BCBS members were diagnosed with an allergy and the number of emergency room visits from anaphylaxis from 2010 to 2016.

Emergency room trips increased from 1.4 per 10,000 children in 2010 to 3.5 per 10,000 children in 2016. Allergic reactions to specific foods were responsible for 47 percent of children’s 2016 anaphylaxis episodes, which can include difficulty breathing, reduced blood pressure, loss of consciousness and potentially death.

The most common foods that trigger severe allergic reactions are peanuts at 22 percent, tree nuts and seeds at 15 percent and milk and eggs at 6 percent. However, 53 percent of these allergic reactions are due to unknown foods or other unspecified causes such as insect bites.

This report highlights the need for parents and guardians of at-risk children to be prepared for a reaction at any time. 

“Parents should be vigilant and work closely with their pediatricians and family doctors to ensure their children are properly diagnosed and treated,” Washington said.

“And, if prescribed medications for emergencies—like epinephrine injections—keep those treatments close at hand at all times.”

The study also finds that:

  • Approximately 18% of children suffered from an allergy in 2016, increasing slightly from 17% in 2010.
  • The two most common childhood allergies are rhinitis, which affects 9% of children, and dermatitis, which affects 5%. The rate of dermatitis in Louisiana closely tracked these numbers, with 5% of kids affected, but 11.3% of Louisiana kids were diagnosed with rhinitis.
  • Rhinitis peaks in April during the spring and in September during the fall. Oklahoma, Kentucky and Texas had the highest percent of children diagnosed with rhinitis at 14%. Louisiana ranked No. 19 on this list with a rate of 11.3%.
  • Allergy diagnoses decrease as children get older. Twenty-five percent of children younger than 3 years old are diagnosed with one or more allergies, compared to only 14% for children ages 14 through 18 in 2016. Allergy rates drop considerably more for boys as they grow older. Twenty-six percent of boys under the age of 3 are diagnosed with at least one allergy, while 13% of boys ages 14 through 18 have an allergy diagnosis.

“The big question is why, and that’s what we in the medical community need to find out,” said Trent Haywood, BCBS senior vice president and chief medical officer. He goes on to say that food allergies are tied to both genetics and the environment and that something has changed for such a drastic increase.

Washington also noted the effect of a child’s environment on allergy diagnoses, pointing out that states in the warmer southern region continue to have higher rates.

To read the report or download a copy, click here.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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