National strategy aims to address rise in allergic diseases

The rise in the number of people with allergies has prompted a new national strategy to help address the problem.

The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) said allergic diseases were among the fastest growing chronic conditions, affecting around one in five Australians.

Support group, Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia (A&AA), said allergic diseases such as hayfever, conjunctivitis, eczema and food allergy, were being managed in an ad hoc manner.

“We have people having to wait up to 18 months on a waiting list to see an allergy specialist,” said Maria Said, president of A&AA’s New South Wales branch.

“We have people with allergic rhinitis [hay fever] who are not being properly managed and that sets them up to develop asthma later in life.

“It’s unacceptable in all states because there’s such an increase in prevalence of allergic disease.”

Brisbane mother Annelies Kirkham has two teenage children who suffer from a range of allergic diseases.

“Eczema, asthma, hayfever or allergic rhinitis, severe and life-threatening food allergies – so anaphylaxis to peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish – food intolerances and allergies to tomatoes, chemical number 466,” she said.

“It’s like a little chorus in an orchestra of sneezing and sniffing you know, most days in my household.”

The Kirkhams, like the four million Australians with at least one allergy, had been down the rocky treatment pathway.

Their plight prompted calls for a coordinated approach nationally to enable allergy sufferers to access accurate evidence-based information and care, which experts said had been lacking.

Strategy to focus on accurate information

ASCIA and A&AA are in the process of developing a National Allergy Strategy for Australia, in a bid to tackle the rise in allergic diseases.

“This is a call between health professionals as well as patients and their families, trying to find a way forward in terms of managing this problem,” said Associate Professor Richard Loh, allergy specialist and chairman of the National Allergy Strategy Committee.

“And we’ve actually consulted very widely – over 60 organisations have been consulted in the past 12 months as part of this document that we’re almost completing.”

One of the strategy’s main goals was to develop and maintain standards, including protocols and guidelines, to assist health professionals to deliver timely access to appropriate and optimal care.

Work on the new strategy was expected to be completed in August.

For Ms Kirkham, the change could not come soon enough.

“My nephew, who is showing signs of allergies, he’s just been told there’s a two-year wait for him now, he’s eight,” she said.

“I think if he could get in sooner, if he could get seen, he would be managed a whole lot quicker and perhaps reduce the risk of more serious asthma attack, hospitalisation.”