Allergies: Are African Americans at Greater Risk?

Does race matter when it comes to allergies? The experts say yes-- our ethnic background can indeed make a difference when it comes to how indoor and outdoor allergies affect you. In fact, a recent study shows that African American children are at greater risk than other groups for suffering from the effects of seasonal triggers.

Allergy Symptoms

Allergies and asthma are a widespread problem today, affecting one in four Americans. The symptoms typically experienced can include congestion, sneezing, itchy eyes, nose and throat, coughing, wheezing and chest tightness. And while certain risk factors have long been recognized as making people more susceptible to experiencing allergies, current research reveals that children of African American background are more likely than their white counterparts to be affected by these discomforts.

Racial Differences

The findings of a study that was published in a recent issue of CHEST, the journal of the American College of Chest Physicians, illustrates that African American children with asthma are at two to three times higher risk than other children to experience seasonal allergies.[i]

Experts attribute this to the fact that some African American children live in poor housing conditions, which may expose them to more environmental triggers that can be to blame for some of the symptoms. In addition, some of the children most at risk have limited access to allergy testing and treatment, which means that their triggers may not be identified and therefore they may be continually exposed to them. As a result, the symptoms may be more difficult to manage.

The Triggers

Researchers tested participants to a variety of common triggers. Those that spurred the biggest reaction among American American children included mixed tree and grass pollens, weed mix, and mugwort/sage. Further, the findings revealed the link between severe asthma and severe allergy symptoms among study participants.

What it Means

Experts say that the findings of this study should serve as a reminder to the medical community to understand that allergies and asthma may affect minorities in different ways. In addition, it should reiterate the need for more children living in poorer living conditions to have access to the best allergy testing and treatment options in order to experience the best possible health.

Protect Your Family

To prevent seasonal allergies from stopping your family this spring, take steps to minimize exposure to some of the biggest allergens. These tips can be effective for people of all ethnic backgrounds:

  • Check the pollen count before you head outdoors.
  • Keep your home and car windows closed and run your air conditioner.
  • Shower and wash your hair after being outdoors.
  • Avoid using fans (which can draw pollen in) at home or in your car.
  • Wash bedding and curtains weekly in hot water.
  • Keep pets out of your bedroom.
  • Use hypoallergenic pillows and encase your mattress in plastic to prevent dust mites.
  • Talk to your doctor about the latest treatment options.

[i] Asthmatic Children in Connecticut*Chest January 2004 125:85-92; doi:10.1378/chest.125.1.85. Juan C. Celedón, Diane Sredl, Scott T. Weiss, Marianne Pisarski, Dorothy Wakefield, Michelle Cloutier.