Allergies ~ A Compelling Argument for Wellness Screenings
Allergic Disease is an Epidemic
Allergies are a significant health risk reaching epidemic proportions. One in four people suffer from allergies and as many as one in two in urban areas. It is estimated that greater than 60 million Americans are affected. The financial toll on patients, employers, and the healthcare system is greater than $18 billion per year. It is among the country’s most common, yet overlooked diseases. Despite the clinical and financial impact, few seek proper diagnosis and disease management.
Allergies are more than just a seasonal inconvenience. Fifty six percent of allergy sufferers experience symptoms throughout the year. Of those with perennial allergies, 71% experience worsening symptoms during certain times of year. Without proper diagnosis and treatment allergies lead to asthma and other co-morbidities. In fact allergies represent the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the USA. They are becoming an increasingly serious concern for children. Employers should look not just at the impact of allergies on their employees but also on the impacts on their family members.
Costs due to allergic rhinitis can be divided into two categories: direct costs that are related to monies spent on the course of managing the disease and indirect costs that are due to missing work and decreased productivity due to the illness. There are also the costs associated with the co morbidities of allergic rhinitis, such as sinusitis and asthma, which are classified as “hidden” direct costs.1
Importance of Diagnosis and Treatment
Symptoms including stuffy runny nose, itchy watery eyes, sneezing and headaches are often attributed to other conditions leading patients to self medicate for symptom relief. Traditional allergy testing methods like skin and blood testing are often painful, expensive, and time-consuming routines keeping patients from pursuing medical treatment.
Early diagnosis and treatment is critical to reduce the risk of progression to asthma and to improve the productivity and quality of life for those with allergies who suffer significant discomfort and distress.
Allergy’s Impact on the Employer
According to information from the Household Component of the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS-HC) from 2008:
- Medical spending to treat allergic rhinitis almost doubled from $6.1 billion in 2000 (in 2005 dollars) to $11.2 billion in 2005.
- Ambulatory expenditures for care and treatment of allergic rhinitis increased 73% from 2000 to 2005.
- Mean annual expenditures for those with an out-of-pocket expense related to allergic rhinitis increased from $350/person in 2000 (in 2005 dollars) to $520/person in 2005.
- In 2000 and 2005, more than one-half of the total allergic rhinitis expenses were spent on prescription medications.
- A very important aspect in direct costs of allergic rhinitis is the money spent on OTC allergy medications in the United States. Data from two healthcare industry sources, Euromonitor and Nicholas Hall, estimated a range of $1.175–1.5 billion spent in 2008 on OTC allergy medications.
In addition to the direct costs, there are “hidden” direct costs in allergic rhinitis. Money spent directly to manage other medical conditions that are attributable to allergies is considerable and include antibiotics, x-rays, emergency department visits, surgical procedures, worsening asthma and treatment of ocular symptoms.
 Allergic rhinitis: Direct and indirect costs; Michael S. Blaiss, M.D.; Allergy Asthma Proc 31:375-380, 2010.
While the direct medical costs are extensive, the indirect costs dwarf these expenditures. In an article titled, “Presenteeism: At Work But Out of It” in The Harvard Business Review (Oct 2004), Paul Hemp describes presenteeism as workers on the job but because of illness or other medical conditions they are not fully functioning. Presenteeism accounts for a $150 billion drain on worker productivity, far more expensive than all other health-related costs combined, including absenteeism, long and short term disability, and medical/pharmaceutical costs.
Allergic rhinitis ranks fifth among chronic conditions in the United States in terms of the overall economic burden with over 75% of the costs caused by presenteeism. One study by Lamb, et al. found that presenteeism costs associated with allergic rhinitis were higher than any other condition assessed including asthma, diabetes and coronary heart disease.
 Health, absence, disability, and presenteeism cost estimates of certain physical and mental health conditions affecting U.S. employers, Goetzel RZ et al., J Occup Environ Med. 2004 Apr;46 (4):398-412.
 Economic impact of workplace productivity losses due to allergic rhinitis compared with select medical conditions in the United States from an employer perspective, Charles E. Lamb, et al., Current Medical Research and Opinion, Vol. 22, No. 6, 2006, 1203–1210.
A study conducted by Lockheed Martin in 2002 assessed the impact of 28 medical conditions on worker productivity in their employee population. The largest single category costs were attributed to allergies with an estimated annual loss of $1.8 million, exceeding all other categories. Additionally, many of the additional high cost categories are related to allergies in the form of co-morbidities.
Proper Diagnosis Can Have a Dramatic Impact on Both Direct & Indirect Healthcare Costs
With proper diagnosis employees can avoid allergens, seek proper treatment, avoid sedative medication and reduce the risk of developing further chronic diseases such as asthma, sinusitis, upper respiratory infection, otitis media with effusion (OME), and nasal polyposis.
A recent study demonstrates that testing for allergies results in cost savings. The authors quantified the economic consequences of the use of specific IgE testing in the diagnosis of allergic conditions. The expected costs per patient over 2 years decreased from $1125 in the “no-test strategy” to $786 in the specific IgE “test strategy.” Cost savings persisted even after assumptions about the prevalence of allergy and the prices of medications were changed. The “test strategy” increased the percentage of patients correctly diagnosed from 54 to 87%. 
 Health-care cost reduction resulting from primary care allergy testing in children in Italy, Zethraeus N, et al., Italian Journal of Pediatrics 2010, 36:61.
Screening for allergies is a critical step toward dramatically improving presenteeism and absenteeism. The benefits far outweigh the high cost of lowered productivity attributed to allergies. Studies demonstrate employers save $2-$4 for every $1 spent on programs to manage allergies.
Adding Allergy Testing to Biometric Screenings
Since allergies negatively impact so many Americans, employers should add testing for allergies to the menu of health conditions screened for on an annual basis. With the addition of this testing, companies will increase their control of direct and indirect costs relating to this significant disease.
An employee, or an employee’s family member armed with the information that comes with accurate diagnosis can take immediate steps to avoid the allergens they are affected by, get proper treatment and get back to a more productive and enjoyable life.
ImmuneTech, Inc.: New Technology For Simple & Accurate On-Site Allergy Testing
ImmuneTech was founded to develop a simple, yet technologically advanced test method to enable allergy sufferers increased access to and improved affordability of a proper diagnosis. By facilitating effective management and treatment, the risk of progression to chronic and life threatening illness (such as asthma) can be dramatically reduced.
The ImmuneTech Allergy Diagnostic test is safe, simple, affordable and effective. The test is FDA Cleared, patented and represents the state-of-the-art technology.
It is the first IgE specific allergy test using a simple finger stick for blood collection. The amount of blood required to test for our 10-allergen panel is the smallest patient sample of any blood test on the market. Quantitative laboratory results are obtained from a micro-sample of human serum. Blood collection can be performed at the same time as collection for cholesterol levels and other finger stick tests that are routinely performed at screening events.
The minimally invasive nature of sample collection benefits the lab by extending reach to the target patient population well beyond the physician’s office, facilitating sample collection at on-site health screenings such as those offered at corporations, schools, mobile clinics, walk-in clinics, retail clinics, and pharmacies. Furthermore, a consumer version of the specimen collection kit has been approved for over-the-counter sale with prepayment and direct shipment to the lab for testing.
The ten allergens tested for include: House Dust Mite, Cat Hair, Alternaria (mold), Bermuda Grass, Timothy Grass, Short Ragweed, Mountain Cedar, Wheat, Egg and Milk. We can also provide Total IgE levels upon request with the same sample collected. All samples are tested at our CLIA Certified High Complexity and CAP Certified reference laboratory.
For more information and to include our test in your menu of offerings, please contact us:
Vice President, Strategic Business Development
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Foster City, CA 94404