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WVIZ/PBS

Allergy Shots Made Easy

Monday, June 28, 2010 at 11:00 PM

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Most allergy sufferers accept that runny noses, puffy eyes, itchy throat, and rashes are just part of life. They get by mainly with over-the-counter medications to manage their symptoms. Others take a more aggressive stance submitting to a series of weekly shots that, while time consuming and painful, can diminish and sometimes eliminate their allergic reactions. However, some doctors are prescribing a new way to stop allergies that is as simple as a few drops under the tongue. WCPN health reporter Gretchen Cuda explains.

Kurt Anderson is 18 years old and has suffered with asthma and allergies for years.

ANDERSON: “I’m allergic to just about everything from animals to pollens to just about everything airborne.”

In addition to antihistamine medications like Zyrtek, Anderson took allergy shots.  He says they seemed to be working, but they weren’t ideal

ANDERSON: “I’m a swimmer so the shots sometimes make me sore on the arms and that would be made worse by exercising.  I would be sore for multiple days even”

It was also a hassle to see his doctor every week for the injections, so Anderson decided to try something new - something that specialists in the U.S. who treat allergy patients have mixed opinions about.  It’s called sublingual immunotherapy - which literally means under the tongue. 

Dr. Steven Houser - an ear nose and throat doctor at Cleveland’s Metro Health medical center prescribed liquid drops that Anderson can take orally at home; they work the exact same way that traditional allergy shots do - they quiet down his overactive immune system by exposing it to increasing doses of the substances the he is allergic to.

There are a couple of hitches though. 

HOUSER: “Sublingual immunotherapy is not recognized by the FDA as a valid therapy at this time”

That’s Doctor Houser who explains that American physicians can still prescribe the tongue drop method for treating allergies…employing a so-called “off-label” use of the medication.  In fact, about 20 percent of prescriptions written in the US today are for off label uses of drugs, so it’s a common thing to do but some allergy specialists prefer to wait until the FDA officially sanctions it. 

A 2007 survey by the American College of Allergy, Asthma and immunology concluded that although less than 6 percent of US allergists reported using oral immunotherapy, most viewed it as safe and effective and would consider using it if it were an FDA-approved therapy. The agency is waiting on more research. 

However, Metro Health’s Steven Houser and many other Ear, Nose and Throat specialists feel that oral immunotherapy is a valid option for many patients even without FDA approval.

HOUSER:  “Certainly the Europeans have proven that this is a very valid therapy and frankly very safe”

European doctors have been using tongue drops in lieu of injections for years.  Houser says studies in Europe show it is actually a safer method than injections which can sometimes cause serious adverse reactions, even death. 

But there’s one more reason some U.S. doctors don’t prescribe it.  Insurance companies won’t pay for it.  Again, that’s because the FDA hasn’t approved it.  So, American allergy sufferers who want the drops like Kurt Anderson have to pay for the medication out of pocket.  He tries to look on the bright side.

ANDERSON:  “You don’t go for half hour appointments every Monday and Friday- the drops you just take at home.  They are certainly more convenient.”

HOUSER: T"he patient is able to do sublingual therapy typically at home, on a daily basis and that is advantageous for a lot of patients.  Children who will not tolerate being dragged in weekly for a shot, having drops below the tongue is much more appealing.”

Currently a number of US clinical trials are investigating the safety and efficacy of oral immunotherapy for treating allergies against peanuts, cockroaches grass, ragweed and dust mites

Gretchen Cuda, 90.3

Tags

Health, Attacking Allergies

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