The Social and Financial Impact of Allergies
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2021 | Last updated: June 2022
Allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic (long-term) illness in the United States. As with any long-term health condition, allergies impact a person’s life in many ways. The most common ways allergies affect a person’s life include:1
- Expenses tied to treatment and avoiding triggers
- Changes in daily living to avoid triggers
- Lower quality of life due to symptoms
- Social isolation when trying to avoid triggers
These impacts are widespread since about 50 million people in the United States are allergic to at least 1 allergen.2
What is an allergen?
Normally, the immune system reacts to invaders like viruses, bacteria, or fungi by sending out antibodies to fight them off. Someone is said to have an allergy if their immune system reacts to something “normal.” An allergen can be anything a person reacts to. This can be a common food like milk or peanuts, a plant like grass or poison ivy, the family dog, or an insect bite.3
When the body overreacts to an allergen, it may cause a variety of symptoms. Airborne allergens like mold or dust can cause sneezing, runny nose, fatigue, itching, or watery eyes. Food allergens can cause stomach upset, shortness of breath, hives, or diarrhea. A severe reaction called anaphylaxis can be life-threatening.3
Such a wide variety of reactions have many different consequences.
Social impact of allergies
It is hard to feel like being social if you are not feeling your best. If you are sneezing, have a rash, or feel sick to your stomach, chances are you do not want to be around other people. You may be self-conscious about your appearance. Or, you may want to avoid alarming people who might mistake your sneezing and coughing for something contagious.
Allergies can get in the way of good-quality sleep, which can lead to daytime fatigue. Plus, some allergy medicines make you sleepy or irritable, which can make work, school, or a social life harder.1-4
The effects of allergies range from mild to severe. Allergies may make it hard to concentrate or cloud your thinking. If the allergy symptoms are bad enough to warrant staying home from school or work, this may impact your education and finances.
Cost of allergies
Allergy treatments can be expensive. This is especially true if your symptoms are year-round rather than seasonal. Depending on the allergy, expenses may include medicines, doctor visits, special foods, and more. Some people even need to change careers to avoid an allergen in their workplace.2-5
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America estimates that each year, people in the United States spend:2-5
- $18 billion for non-food allergies like hay fever
- $25 billion for food allergies
Food allergies can be especially hard on a family’s budget. Annual medical costs for food allergies just in children are over $4 billion a year, or $724 a child. This includes hospital stays, doctor visits, emergency care, drugs, and other treatments. This does not include the costs of buying special foods.4,5
Treatments may come with side effects that impact work and school performance. Side effects that may interfere with work include decision-making difficulty, impaired memory, fatigue, and reduced hand-eye coordination. All of this may impact your finances.1
If you have a severe allergic reaction, you may need to be treated in an emergency room or hospital, which is always costly. Repeated visits to the hospital can be especially hard on your finances.
Other ways allergies may impact your life
When you are not feeling well, it can affect you emotionally. If you are not able to spend time with friends or go to school or work, it may add stress. If you are not sleeping well because of allergies, you may general fatigue along with mood changes from lack of sleep.
Some allergy medicines have been linked to higher rates of depression and anxiety. If you have a history of depression or anxiety, talk with your doctor before taking any allergy drug. This includes over-the-counter drugs. If you start to notice any changes in mood while taking allergy medicine, call your doctor.6