Blue Cross Blue Shield Association Study Shows Spike in Emergency Room Trips for Kids with Severe Allergies to Food and Other Substances

Chicago – Emergency room visits from anaphylaxis to food and other allergens spiked 150 percent from 2010 through 2016, according to a new seven-year study of medical claims by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association's (BCBSA) Health of America Report.

The study uses medical claims to analyze how many young Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) members were diagnosed with an allergy and the number of emergency room visits from anaphylaxis from 2010 to 2016. Children diagnosed as susceptible to an anaphylaxis episode increased 104 percent during the study period, rising from 23 per 10,000 children in 2010 to 47 per 10,000 children in 2016.

Emergency room trips increased from 1.4 per 10,000 children in 2010 to 3.5 per 10,000 children in 2016. Allergic reactions to specific foods were responsible for 47 percent of children’s 2016 anaphylaxis episodes, which can include difficulty breathing, reduced blood pressure, loss of consciousness and potentially death. The most common foods that trigger severe allergic reactions are peanuts at 22 percent, tree nuts and seeds at 15 percent and milk and eggs at six percent. However, 53 percent of these allergic reactions are due to unknown foods or other unspecified causes such as insect bites.

The study also finds that:

  • Approximately 18 percent of children suffered from an allergy in 2016, increasing slightly from 17 percent in 2010.
  • The two most common childhood allergies are rhinitis, which affects nine percent of children, and dermatitis, which affects five percent. Rhinitis peaks in April during the spring and in September during the fall. Oklahoma, Kentucky and Texas had the highest percent of children diagnosed with rhinitis at 14 percent.
  • Allergy diagnoses decrease as children get older. Twenty-five percent of children younger than three years old are diagnosed with one or more allergies, compared to only 14 percent for children ages 14 through 18 in 2016. Allergy rates drop considerably more for boys as they grow older. Twenty-six percent of boys under the age of three are diagnosed with at least one allergy, while 13 percent of boys ages 14 through 18 have an allergy diagnosis.

"It's clear that there's an increase of anaphylaxis episodes, but there's also been an overall increase in education,” said Trent Haywood, senior vice president and chief medical officer for BCBSA. “Parents are recognizing symptoms, calling their pediatricians and coming to the ER a lot quicker. This report highlights the need for parents and guardians of at-risk children to be prepared for a reaction at any time.

"The big question is why, and that's what we in the medical community need to find out. We know that food allergies are tied to both genetics and the environment — and we know that something has changed for it to have gone up so drastically," Haywood added.

“As the rate of food allergies rises, this study highlights the increased need for awareness and education to help parents and caregivers recognize and properly treat anaphylaxis,” says Kenneth Mendez, president and CEO of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. “Patients are more likely to use their medicines if cost is not an issue. Thankfully, with new generics, we again have more options for epinephrine. And with new innovative treatments on the horizon, there will be options to reduce the risk of anaphylaxis.”

This is the nineteenth study of the Blue Cross Blue Shield: The Health of America Report® series, a collaboration between BCBSA and Blue Health Intelligence, which uses a market-leading claims database to uncover key trends and insights into health care affordability and access to care.

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About BHI
Blue Health Intelligence (BHI) is the nation’s premier resource for data-driven insights about healthcare trends and best practices, promoting healthier lives and more affordable access to safe and effective care. BHI leverages a team of analytics experts and advanced technology, coupled with access to the greatest number of healthcare claims—172 million lives—gathered over 10 years in a safe, HIPAA-compliant, secure database. The resulting conformed, reliable data set has the broadest, deepest pool of integrated medical and pharmacy claims, reflecting medical utilization in every ZIP code. Blue Health Intelligence (BHI) is an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. BHI is a trade name of Health Intelligence Company, LLC.

About Blue Cross Blue Shield Association

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association is a national federation of 34 independent, community-based and locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies that collectively provide health care coverage for one in three Americans. BCBSA provides health care insights through The Health of America Report series and the national BCBS Health Indexsm. For more information on BCBSA and its member companies, please visit We also encourage you to connect with us on Facebook, check out our videos on YouTube and follow us on Twitter.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association is an association of 35 independent, locally operated Blue Cross and/or Blue Shield companies.