In April 2009, 1,814 adults with seasonal allergies took an online survey designed by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. The results provide a patient's perspective on the day-to-day management of the condition.
Can the survey results help me choose among allergy treatments? Allergies are hard to treat. Our survey found that none of the main strategies for coping with allergies was completely successful. Consumers may be moving from one medicine to the next for different reasons, such as lack of overall effect or difficulty tolerating side effects. Some people take more than one medication simultaneously to treat different symptoms. The survey findings don't provide an easy answer, but they can help you gauge the severity of your condition, benchmark your symptoms, and determine whether to pursue, change or discontinue treatment. Since only your doctor can provide a clinical exam and review your health status and history, it's always a good idea to involve him or her in health decisions. In the case of allergies, having a thorough discussion with a physician or allergist matters a lot. It doesn't always. For example, our survey work on back pain found that primary-care physicians weren't very helpful.
What did we ask? We wanted to know whether respondents had allergies to things in their environment, such as pollen, trees, grass, ragweed, molds, mites, or pets (dogs or cats) and then found out what exactly triggered their allergic response (many were unsure). We then narrowed the sample to 1,814 U.S. residents ages 18 or older who typically experience springtime reactions to outdoor allergens during one or more spring months (March, April, May, June). We asked respondents about symptoms, the number of days that allergies left them feeling miserable, experience with providers, and their use of treatments—including avoidance strategies—and overall success managing their condition.
Does the survery represent the general population? Results were collected from a nationally representative survey of the U.S. population that was designed by the Consumer Reports National Research Center in consultation with internal and external medical experts. The sample was drawn from Knowledge Network's nationally representative online panel, which was recruited through a combination of random-digit-dialing and address-based sampling. The survey was fielded between April 6 and April 20, 2009, and asked about experience with allergies in 2008. Sampling error at the 95 percent confidence level was 2.98 percent.
How do the survey results compare with those of clinical trials? In this allergy survey, we ask patients to report and recall the extent of their symptoms at one point in time. Clinical studies, on the other hand, usually include physical exams to assess whether treatment is effective. Clinical studies may also follow people over time and compare the use of a single treatment against a placebo. Findings can help clarify what a medication can do to address specific symptoms and whether some drugs work better than others. We encourage you to make decisions based on clinical evidence.
In the case of allergies, however, clinical studies are a particularly poor match for understanding how allergy treatment works in the daily lives of millions of Americans. Most people are using multiple treatments. While we know from our survey and clinical trials that something works better than nothing (the placebo analogy), only a population-based survey like this one can show that when it comes to treating allergies as a condition, complete success is elusive for most allergy sufferers.