First-of-its-kind CIHI analysis shows hospital visits for anaphylaxis are on the rise

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Anaphylaxis and Allergy in the Emergency Department  Number of ED visits for anaphylaxis nearly doubled in 7 years

With the beginning of the school year, parents and children returned to their routines, including shopping trips for clothes, school supplies and peanut-free snacks. A recent CIHI analysis, Anaphylaxis and Allergy in the Emergency Department, served as a reminder that peanut allergies are the most common food-related reactions leading to a visit to the emergency department (ED). The analysis focused on visits to EDs for allergic reaction (including anaphylaxis) and presented information on frequency of the visits, patient characteristics and changes over time, along with reactions in the ED by region and diagnosis.

Keith Denny, director of Health System Analysis and Emerging Issues at CIHI, explains: “Allergies are a concern among Canadian families. About 7% of Canadians are affected by food allergies and experts suggest the prevalence of these allergies is increasing. However, the burden of allergies and anaphylaxis on the health care system is not well understood.”

So what did we find?

About 1% of all visits to EDs each year were for an allergic reaction, and this has remained stable since 2006–2007. However, the rate of visits (i.e., visits per 100,000 population) specifically for anaphylaxis grew by 95%. We also found the following:

  • Over the same time period, there was a 64% increase in the rate of people who were dispensed an epinephrine auto-injector.
  • The rate of children younger than 18 who visited EDs in Ontario and Alberta for anaphylaxis more than doubled over the study period, with the 13- to 17-year-old age group experiencing the highest increase.
  • ED visits for allergic reactions of all causes increase in the summer months; visits for food-related allergies increase again in December.
  • Peanuts topped the list of foods that brought people to EDs for anaphylactic shock, accounting for almost 30% of people with a food-related reaction.
  • Tree nuts and seeds were next in line, accounting for 21% of ED visits for food-related reactions.

Where do we go from here?

There is a lot of interest in what is causing the increase in food-related allergies in developed countries, and CIHI hopes to continue to provide relevant information about allergy-related hospital visits in Canada.