Why 2018 Is a Bad Year for Allergies – and Could Get Worse

assortment of medicines
Tori Marsh
Tori Marsh, MPH, is on the Research Team at GoodRx, and is the resident expert on drug pricing and savings.
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In what appears to an abnormally bad year for seasonal allergies, rates for allergy medication fills are exceeding the last four years by 13%, with some significant geographic variations across the US.

Prescriptions are notably higher in the West and the South, with a 19% increase of fills in the West and a 16% rise in the South. Prescription volumes in the Northeast and the Midwest remain in line with past years – but trends indicate that things could get worse.

The 2018 allergy season has been called ‘Pollengeddon’ – with experts anticipating that a wet and chilly spring in some areas of the country could cause higher than average pollen counts and more allergies as the weather warms up. While regional data shows that Pollengeddon is already a reality for some, trends indicate that things could be getting worse for states not currently seeing high rates of allergies, with effects lasting well into the summer.

This data reflects overall US prescriptions (not fills using GoodRx) and comes from several sources, including pharmacies and insurers, providing a representative sample of nationwide US prescription drug volume. The four regions are adapted from US Census Bureau definitions.

West Coast

(Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon & Washington)

The west coast has been hit especially hard this year as fills for seasonal allergy medications are 19% higher than the average fills over the past 4 years, and currently account for 1.25% of prescription fills for all medications. California and Arizona have seen the worst of it. During the last week of April, fills for allergy medications accounted for 1.6% of all prescription fills in California, and 1.4% of all prescription fills in Arizona, 19% higher than the national average.

Why is this? We’re not quite sure, but it could be a factor of the multi-year drought that Arizona, and most of the west coast, has seen. During a drought, pollen, grasses, and weeds collect on the ground and in the air, as there is little rain to wash it away. On top of this, plants tend to release more pollen when they are stressed, or “thirsty,” in an attempt to survive. This combined effect only causes more pollen and higher rates of seasonal allergies. It’s likely that this is at play here.

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South

(Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma & Texas)

Just like the west coast, the South has also seen abnormally high rates for allergy prescription fills this April. According to Atlanta Allergy and Asthma, the pollen count reached over 5,000 grains per cubic meter in early April, a level that hasn’t been observed in Atlanta since 2015. Additionally, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 4 of the 5 most challenging cities to live with allergies this year are in the south – McAllen, Texas; Jackson, Mississippi; Memphis, Tennessee; and San Antonio, Texas.

Of the southern states, South Carolina and Mississippi have been hit the hardest – both seeing 30% more fills than the national average. Alternatively, Arkansas hasn’t yet been impacted by this year’s allergy season – as allergy medications only account for 0.5% of all prescriptions filled at the end of April.

Midwest

(Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota & South Dakota)

States in the Midwest, like Kentucky and Michigan, are thought to have high rates of springtime allergies. But it appears that allergy sufferers in the Midwest may have felt a reprieve these last couple of weeks. During the last week of April, fills for allergy medications only accounted for 0.9% of total prescription fills.

But this doesn’t mean the region has escaped a bad season this year.

Winter this year in the Midwest stretched well into April, postposing pollination and inevitably, allergy season. Another indication of springtime is the beginning of crop season – which have also been delayed this year. This year’s weather patterns and crop season are similar to 2014. In both 2014 and 2018, snow storms lasted well into April, delaying crops and signaling a later than normal spring. Based on these environmental trends, It’s safe to assume that allergy season will mimic that of 2014.

So what could the Midwest have in store for the next couple of weeks? Most likely allergy season will peak during the first week of June and could stay high until September – all summer.

Northeast

(Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Jersey, Pennsylvania)

As in the Midwest, winter in the Northeast lasted well until mid-April this year. While this spared the region from an early allergy season, some anticipated that delaying spring could intensify allergy season with plants pollinating all at once. However, fills for allergy medications indicate that spring this season has been normal and is in line with the past four years.

Which means that the Northeast may not have seen peak allergy season yet, and it may be just around the corner, in mid-May.

Here’s how to save on your allergy medication.

If affordable over the counter medications work for you, consider yourself one of the lucky ones – seasonal allergy medications can be expensive. Generic antihistamine azelastine can cost well over $100 if you’re paying cash, and you may have to shell out over $250 for popular nasal spray Qnasl. But GoodRx is here to help.

Before you pay for your allergy prescription at the pharmacy, be sure to check GoodRx first. Here’s a breakdown of some of the top allergy drugs, and what you could be paying with a GoodRx coupon.

Drug  Average cash price (30-day supply)  Average GoodRx price
loratadine $12 $7
cetirizine $17 $10
azelastine $79 $35
olopatadine $133 $50
ipratropium $45 $25
mometasone $215 $20
flunisolide $67 $50
Dymista $227 $200
flonase $22 $13
Qnasl $252 $184

 

How can I survive Pollengeddon?

While it may be impossible to completely avoid those nasty allergy symptoms, there are ways to make your symptoms less severe.

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