New Allergy Shot Alternative

September 21, 2016
Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.

Allergy shots have been around forever. But they may be on their way to extinction—replaced by something far better.

Historically speaking, once you’ve identified, with your allergist, the things that set you miserably off—the sneezing, itchy eyes, runny nose, rash, or hives, he’ll often prescribe a shot. A minute amount of that allergen injected into your arm to stimulate your immune response.

You start with two injections per week, with gradually increasing amounts of allergen, until your immune system doesn’t attack it as an unwanted rogue substance.

For years, doctors have agreed that shots are the most effective preventive measure available.  Emphasis here is on prevention, rather than the temporary relief provided by over-the-counter antihistamines, which come with a nasty list of side effects.

Despite their efficacy, allergy shots are also among the most underutilized anti-allergy treatments. A survey by the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) found that two in three people with allergies would never consider getting allergy shots.

Why not the shot?

What’s behind this?

Pro?  They work.

Con?  They work for fewer than half of allergy sufferers—some experts say only 20–30 percent.

Pro?  When they work, they reduce your sensitivity to common allergens like bee stings, pollen, dust mites, mold, allergic rhinitis, allergic asthma, conjunctivitis, and pet dander

Con?

  • They’re not effective if you have dangerous food, drug, or latex allergies
  • You need twice weekly, then weekly trips to the doctor for months—even years
  • Noticeable improvement/relief can take more than a year to appear, while OTC remedies reduce symptoms immediately
  • Costs, depending on insurance, can be well over $1,000 per year

And the needles…no one likes needles.

Easy news to swallow

If you have allergies, this could be the best news ever.

In 2014, the FDA approved three allergy treatments that use the same resistance-building strategy as shots—but instead of getting your poor arm perforated twice a week, you simply dissolve a daily tablet under your tongue for one or two minutes, then swallow.

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Depending on your allergies, you do this anywhere from three days a week to daily.

As with allergy shots, developing a permanent immunity can be a matter of 3–5 years.

So no, this isn’t an overnight fix, but it sure beats those weekly treks to the shot shop.

It’s called a sublingual (sub=under, lingua= tongue) treatment.  The area under your tongue is exceptionally rich in receptor and transmitter cells.  They speed whatever finds its way there on to the intended destination.

European medicine has known this for centuries.  These meds have been available there and in Canada for years.

Our ever slow FDA has finally read the memo.

Not a cure-all, not yet

Two of the approved medicines take on different kinds of grass pollen.  One works against five kinds of northern grass pollen.  Another tackles only timothy grass pollen.  The third is for short ragweed.

If those are your allergies, you take the first dose in your doctor’s office, where you’re watched for a possible severe reaction for at least 30 minutes.  After that first dose, it’s DIY at home.

Side effects are a bit uncomfortable or annoying, at worst. You’re going to have a mild allergic reaction, so expect sniffling, sneezy, watery eyes, and whatever else it is that that’s part of your normal allergic reaction.

When you should begin the sublingual treatments depends, as always, on your sensitivity.  Some makers recommend starting 2–4 months before allergy season, some say you can wait until the season is closer.  How you end up will depend on what you learn as you go.

Unsuffer the children

This is an especially important breakthrough for allergic children who tend be especially averse to needles.

If you’re allergic, ask your doctor about the sublingual tablets.  If you have allergic kids or grandkids, spread the news.

And let’s all shout out a thank you to the dedicated searchers and researchers who have made this serious game-changer available.

References

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