Who Has Allergies?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2022

Allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the United States. This makes allergies one of the most common chronic health conditions.1,2

Allergies happen when the immune system reacts to a substance like it is dangerous when it normally is not. This is called an allergic reaction. People have allergic reactions to many things, including food, animals, dust, mold, and pollen.1,2

Some allergies are seasonal, while others are year-round. These allergies can happen any time a person comes into contact with a substance they are allergic to.1,2

In the United States, more than 50 million Americans have an allergy. Doctors believe about 3 out of 10 adults and up to 4 out of 10 children have allergies. The number of people with allergies is increasing across all ages, genders, and racial groups.1

Food allergies

Shellfish, peanuts, and tree nuts are the most common food allergies for adults. Milk, eggs, and peanuts are the most common food allergies for children. Research shows:1-3

  • About 30,000 people visit the emergency room each year for anaphylaxis caused by a food allergy. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction.
  • About 26 million adults and 6 million children have food allergies. That adds up to 11 percent of all adults and 8 percent of all children.
  • About 4 out of every 10 children with a food allergy are allergic to more than 1 food.
  • Children with food allergies are more likely to have other allergies as well.

Skin allergies

Skin allergies include eczema, chronic hives, and contact allergies. Contact allergy means the skin reacts when it comes in touch with an allergen. Research shows:2,3

  • Children are more likely to have skin allergies than adults
  • Girls are more likely to have a skin allergy than boys
  • Skin allergies are more common in Black children and children of 2 or more races

Insect sting allergies

The most common insect sting allergies are bees, wasps, yellow jackets, and fire ants. Of those:2,4

  • About 5 out of 100 people have an insect allergy.
  • Insect allergies are a leading cause of anaphylaxis. Between 50 and 100 people a year die after a hornet, wasp, or bee sting.

Environmental allergies

Environmental allergies include:2

  • Pollen
  • Dust mites
  • Cockroaches
  • Mold
  • Animal dander
  • Poor air quality
  • Cosmetics
  • Laundry detergent
  • Dyes
  • Household cleaners
  • Pesticides

These allergens are divided into 2 types. Airborne allergens like pollen, dust, mold, and animal dander cause a reaction when breathed in. Contact allergens like cosmetics, laundry detergent, dyes, and cleaning products cause a reaction when they touch the skin. Research shows:2

  • About 1 in 5 Americans have an environmental allergy
  • About 1 out of 10 adults and children have hay fever (allergic rhinitis)
  • Half of people with an environmental allergy say it impacts their daily life
  • Healthcare workers are the group most likely to develop a latex allergy
  • Two out of 3 people with asthma have environmental allergies

Drug allergies

Drug allergies are common. 1 out of 10 people worldwide report being allergic to penicillin. Drug allergies are one of the top causes of anaphylaxis worldwide.5

Is there a genetic link to allergies?

Genetics play a role in whether someone develops allergies. For example, having a parent or sibling with allergies gives someone a 25 percent chance of also having allergies. This risk increases if more than 1 person in the family has allergies.6

Children with 1 allergy are more likely to develop allergies to other things. However, people with no family history of allergies may develop them. In most cases, people do not inherit a particular allergy, only the chance of developing allergies.3

Scientists are studying many genes to see if they increase or decrease the risk of allergies.

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