One in five New Zealanders suffer from allergic diseases, and symptoms range from relatively mild to severe and potentially life-threatening.
This week is Allergy Awareness Week (17-23 May) and Allergy New Zealand have highlighted their conerns about the risks faced by those allergy sufferers who may be accessing inaccurate information and not getting a proper diagnosis. In fact, it has been estimated that each year, 50-70 per cent of adults and children with allergic disease consult alternative practitioners.
“There are barriers to accessing proper medical advice, so out of frustration people may be tempted to self-diagnose, turn to alternative practitioners or use information from websites that has no scientific basis,” says the organisation’s chief executive, Penny Jorgensen.
The problem is access to allergy services. A recent study into the burden of allergy found the current number of specialist units and allergy/immunology specialists per head of population in New Zealand is well below international benchmarks and is inadequate to manage the burden of the disease.
“We are concerned at the number of people, and adults in particular, who are not having their allergies managed effectively. This has ongoing debilitating effects on their health, and we are really concerned at the risks of unidentified anaphylaxis, the most severe form of allergic reaction,” Mrs Jorgensen says.
A study examining anaphylaxis presentation to Auckland Hospital found that one quarter of these cases may potentially have been prevented if patients had been evaluated and educated by a clinical immunologist or allergist following a previous reaction.
It is hoped that Allergy Awareness Week will increase public and professional appreciation of the impact of allergic disorders on quality of life and the economic impact to society, and get the allergic public to be more aware of where they get their information.
The issue of appropriate diagnosis and advice for those with a food allergy was the subject of a Science Media Centre Alert last week.
Other news on allergies this week – the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research have announced a new research initiative they are undertaking into food allergy. In an attempt to improve the quality of life of New Zealanders affected by food allergies, clinicians, public health researchers, and scientists specialising in food allergy research from the Wellington School of Medicine, Massey University, the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, Nutricia, Fonterra, AgResearch and the Dairy Goat Co-operative (NZ) Ltd, met at the Malaghan Institute last month to establish a collaborative food allergy research network.
At the end of Food Allergy Week, the Gluten Free Food and Allergy Show takes place in Auckland on 23-24 May. A further Gluten Free Food and Allergy Show is scheduled to take place in Christchurch on 3-4 October.
To talk to experts about food allergy, or for more information on this topic, please contact the Science Media Centre on tel: 04 499 5476 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.