Allergies affect 15 million people in UK, says Professor

June 15, 2005

The NHS spends £1 billion each year treating 15 million of British children and adults for allergies like eczema, hay fever and asthma and an estimated 40% of children and 30% of adults in the UK are now affected by allergic disorders, a University of Edinburgh Professor will say in his inaugural lecture today, Thursday, 16 June. The prevalence of these conditions has increased dramatically in recent decades throughout the western world, especially in UK which now ranks as having amongst the highest levels of these conditions.

Professor Aziz Sheikh says: "The rarer, potentially more serious systemic allergic disorders such as food allergy, nettle rash (urticaria), swelling of the tissues (angioedema) and the potentially life-threatening anaphylaxis have also increased very rapidly in recent times to the extent that allergies now account for an estimated 6% of all GP consultations, 10% of GP prescribing budget and total NHS costs conservatively estimated at in excess of £1billion pounds.

"Whilst the reasons for these very dramatic increases remain as yet far from clear, evidence is however converging on the possible impact of improved living standards and associated reduced risk of infection - the so called 'hygiene hypothesis' - in increasing risk of developing allergic conditions. In particular, evidence is focusing on the gastro-intestinal infections and preliminary approaches to manipulating this gastrointestinal environment in early life have been encouraging."

Professor Sheikh says new ways of delivering care need to be considered, including eHealth technology to improve diagnosis, monitoring and delivery of primary care to asthma patients. He adds: "We also have to explore the ways in which NHS services need to be reconfigured to respond to the recent scathing House of Commons Health Select Committee's Report on NHS Provision of Allergy Services."

He will also discuss ideas of how he believes this work should now strategically be taken forward in Scotland through focusing on nationally evaluating approaches which may prevent the onset and progression of allergic disorders, developing undergraduate and postgraduate training opportunities for primary care health professionals, introducing regional GPs with specialist interests in allergy and developing a national centre of excellence for research and clinical care.

Aziz Sheikh is Professor of Primary Care Research & Development in the GP Section of the Division of Community Health Sciences. He read physiology and medicine at University College, London and then read epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

The Allergic March by Professor Aziz Sheikh, College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, University of Edinburgh: Thursday, 16 June 2005 in the Anatomy Lecture Theatre, Medical School, Teviot Place at 5.15pm. The lecture is open to the public.

University of Edinburgh

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