(WHTM) — A new study out of Penn State Health and Penn State College of Medicine found Black and Hispanic patients are less likely to get the best treatment for severe allergies.
Lead researcher Dr. Sunjay Modi said this is the first study to identify disparities in prescribing allergy shots. He said finding this gap could help close it.
Modi said he already knew racial and ethnic differences in allergy treatment existed.
“We’ve seen this with asthma, we’ve seen this with eczema, food allergy,” he explained.
However, he wanted to know if those same differences exist with allergic rhinitis.
“Allergic rhinitis is just a fancy way of saying the seasonal allergies or the year-round allergies of runny nose, itchy, watery eyes,” he said.
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Modi, a fellow at Penn State Health, focused on severe allergies, looking at data on around one million patients.
“Despite being on the anti-allergy medicines, they continue to have significant symptoms,” he said.
He said the best treatment for those severe allergies is allergy shots.
“One would anticipate if your allergies are much more severe, that you should be getting the optimal care,” he said.
However, Modi found the most severe cases were not necessarily getting the best treatment.
Modi explained communities of color usually have more severe allergies.
“They tend to have more exposure to indoor allergens such as dust mites, cockroaches, mold,” he said.
However, his research found Black patients were 60 percent less likely than white patients to get the shots. Hispanic patients were 20 percent less likely.
“What is the gap, and then what are the strategies to close the gap?” asked Dr. Inginia Genao, vice dean of diversity, equity, and belonging at Penn State College of Medicine.
Genao said research like Modi’s is critical.
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“If we don’t do the research, and obtain the data, then we don’t have the information to guide us,” she said.
That research can help ensure equal access to health care. When that does not exist, the underserved communities bear the brunt.
“Those without those opportunities are going to suffer. They’re not going to have the same longevity, the same quality of life,” Genao said.
Dr. Modi said the disparities he found could have multiple causes. Patients of color might be less likely to be referred to an allergy specialist or face other barriers like access to transportation. He said that is an area for further research.
Dr. Genao said disparities also exist in funding for research. She said there is usually less funding available for research like Modi’s which looks at health disparities, but securing more money is essential to continue those projects.