Who Has Environmental Allergies?

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

Environmental allergies may be called many things. Commonly used terms include:1

  • Seasonal allergies
  • Hay fever
  • Nasal allergies
  • Eye allergies
  • Skin allergies
  • Indoor-outdoor allergies

About 5 million children and 19 million adults in the United States have an environmental allergy. The most common environmental allergy triggers are:1

  • Trees
  • Grasses
  • Weeds
  • Mold
  • Dust mites
  • Cockroaches
  • Cats
  • Dogs
  • Rodents

Allergies of all types are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the United States. Environmental allergies can be some of the toughest to manage because, as the name implies, these triggers are in the air around you.1

Hay fever or respiratory allergies

Hay fever (allergic rhinitis) and respiratory allergies are common. Roughly 7 out of every 100 people are diagnosed with hay fever, which is caused by an allergy to pollen from different plants, dust mites, and cockroaches. About 19 million people are diagnosed with hay fever each year. Hay fever accounts for about 7 million doctor visits a year.2

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that:3

  • Rates of hay fever in children have declined since 1997
  • Boys are a bit more likely than girls to have hay fever or a respiratory allergy
  • White children have higher rates of hay fever and respiratory allergies than Black, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian, or native Hawaiian children
  • Children of 2 or more races have by highest rates of these allergies

Mold allergies

Mold spores float in the air and live on surfaces anywhere it is damp. This includes:4

  • Bathrooms
  • Old buildings
  • Flooded buildings
  • Shoes
  • Air conditioning systems
  • Outside air

The CDC says:4

  • People with other allergies and asthma are more likely to be sensitive to mold
  • Severe allergic reactions are more likely in workers exposed to large amounts of mold, such as farmers working around moldy hay
  • Exposure to indoor mold can cause coughing, wheezing, and upper respiratory symptoms in otherwise healthy people
  • Early exposure to mold may increase the chances of developing asthma in some children

Dust mite and cockroach allergies

Dust mites and cockroaches are common household insects that trigger allergic reactions in many people. These bugs do not bite or sting. The allergy is to their body parts and waste products. Both dust mites and cockroaches cause sneezing, stuffy nose, itchy or watery eyes, and coughing.5

Doctors believe between 65 and 130 million people worldwide are sensitive to dust mites. About half of people with asthma are allergic to dust mites.5

Cockroaches are a common trigger for year-round allergies and asthma. Studies have shown between 17 and 41 percent of U.S. children and adults are allergic to roaches. The rates are even higher for children with asthma who live in inner cities.6

Cats, dogs, and other animals

Many people are allergic to animals with fur. Doctors estimate that 3 out of every 10 people in the United States are allergic to cats and dogs. Worldwide, the rate is 1 to 2 out of 10. Pet allergies seem to be increasing. Cat allergies are twice as common as dog allergies.7,8

Pet allergies can be costly. One study found people with dog allergies spent between $500 million to $1 billion on asthma care.8

Other environmental allergies

People can be allergic to nearly anything in their surroundings. The consequences can be complicated:9-11

  • Children exposed to traffic exhaust, air pollution, or tobacco smoke early in life are more likely to develop allergies
  • Common cleaning products like ammonia and bleach can make allergies worse
  • Strong smells from perfume, detergent, or fabric softener can trigger respiratory and skin allergies