Blue Cross Study: Spike in ER Trips for Kids with Severe Allergies to Food and Other Substances

Louisiana hay fever rates are high thanks to subtropical climate, local doctor says

March 20, 2018

Emergency room visits from anaphylaxis to food and other allergens spiked 150% from 2010 through 2016, according to a new seven-year study of medical claims by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) Health of America Report, Childhood Allergies in America

“Although they are—thankfully—rare, there has been quite an increase in serious allergic reactions,” said Dr. Vindell Washington, chief medical officer at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana. 

The study uses medical claims to analyze how many young 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% 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% 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%, tree nuts and seeds at 15% and milk and eggs at 6%. However, 53% of these allergic reactions are due to unknown foods or other unspecified causes such as insect bites. 

This report highlights the need for parents and guardians of at-risk children to be prepared for a reaction at any time. Washington noted that the overall rate of anaphylaxis is still low, so parents shouldn’t panic, but they and their kids’ other caregivers should stay watchful—particularly with food allergies.

“Parents should be vigilant and work closely with their pediatricians and family doctors to ensure their children are properly diagnosed and treated,” Washington said. “And, if prescribed medications for emergencies—like epinephrine injections—keep those treatments close at hand at all times.”

The study also finds that:

  • Approximately 18% of children suffered from an allergy in 2016, increasing slightly from 17% in 2010.
  • The two most common childhood allergies are rhinitis, which affects 9% of children, and dermatitis, which affects 5%. The rate of dermatitis in Louisiana closely tracked these numbers, with 5% of kids affected, but 11.3% of Louisiana kids were diagnosed with rhinitis.
  • 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%. Louisiana ranked No. 19 on this list with a rate of 11.3%.
  • Allergy diagnoses decrease as children get older. Twenty-five percent of children younger than 3 years old are diagnosed with one or more allergies, compared to only 14% 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 3 are diagnosed with at least one allergy, while 13% of boys ages 14 through 18 have an allergy diagnosis.

“The big question is why, and that's what we in the medical community need to find out," said Trent Haywood, BCBS senior vice president and chief medical officer. “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.”

Washington also noted the effect of a child’s environment on allergy diagnoses, pointing out that states in the warmer southern region continue to have higher rates. “Our state rates are high due to our sub‑tropical flora,” he said. “Childhood allergies remain an important focus for us at BCBSLA.”

This is the 19th 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 healthcare affordability and access to care. 

To read the report or download a copy, visit

About Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana
Founded in New Orleans in 1934, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana is a tax-paying nonprofit health insurer. We are a private mutual company, owned by our policyholders, with an independent Louisiana Board of Directors and no shareholders. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana is committed to our mission to improve the health and lives ofLouisianians. With our subsidiaries, HMO Louisiana and Southern National Life, we provide group and individual health insurance plans, life and disability insurance, group voluntary products and administrative services to one out of four Louisiana residents. Blue Cross also provides Medicare supplement and Medicare Advantage plans and is a partner in offering the Healthy Blue Medicaid managed care plan. Headquartered in Baton Rouge, we have eight regional offices to serve our customers around the state. 

Blue Cross is deeply committed to the communities we serve. Blue Cross invests both time and money in the health and wellbeing of Louisiana children by supporting more than 200 charitable organizations. Blue Cross invites and encourages all Louisianians to visit our website at

About Blue Cross Blue Shield Association
The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association is a national federation of 36 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, follow us on Twitter and check out our blog.

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.