Allergy Drops: Sublingual Immunotherapy

More than half (54.6 percent) of the people reporting a survey completed in the U.S. indicated that they had positive reactions to one or more allergens. Allergic rhinitis (hay fever) affects between 10 and 30 percent of all adults in the U.S. and as many as 40 percent of children.

Although the standard treatment is injection immunotherapy, or allergy shots, research has found that allergy drops are an effective and safe alternative to conventional allergy shots and ideal for those who cannot tolerate allergy shots.

What are allergy drops?

Allergy drops, or sublingual immunotherapy, is a method of treating allergies by placing drops underneath the tongue. They are similar to allergy shots and a set amount of physician-dosed antigens are placed under the tongue to help build the body's tolerance over time. Both methods are based on the same principle: controlled exposure to extracts over time changes the immune response, effectively creating blocking antibodies and reducing or eliminating allergic symptoms.

What is the difference between allergy shots and allergy drops?

Allergy drops are administered at home and do not involve injections. Allergy drops are ideal for patients who have severe allergies, bad asthma, or anyone who cannot tolerate allergy shots. The advantages of allergy drops include: no needles or injections, no risk of anaphylaxis (throat swelling), fewer office visits, and they lessen the need to take allergy and asthma medicines, and they may be more economical than allergy shots. Research shows that allergy drops are an effective and safe alternative to conventional allergy shots.

Are allergy drops a new form of treatment?

No, sublingual drop therapy has been used extensively in Europe and the United States. Although used in Europe for many decades, the use of allergy drops has become increasingly popular in the United States more recently.

Are allergy drops safe and effective?

The safety and efficacy of allergy drops have been proven around the world for decades. The World Health Organization has endorsed allergy drops as a "viable alternative to injection therapy." Furthermore, allergy shots and allergy drops contain the same antigens. The antigens of allergy shots are FDA- approved although sublingual immunotherapy is considered an "off-label use." Research shows that severe reactions with sublingual immunotherapy are three times less common than with allergy shots.

How are allergy drops administered?

Allergy drops can be given for both environmental allergies such as hay fever or seasonal allergies, as well as certain food allergies. They are self-administered, usually once daily. They can be administered from home. Like allergy shots, the complete immunotherapy treatment course averages about 3-5 years. Most patients will begin to experience significant reduction in symptoms within one year although three years of treatment is recommended to obtain maximal benefit. Side effects are unusual and mild, usually irritation under the tongue that requires no treatment. No serious side effect such as anaphylaxis has been reported.

How long can I expect the effects of the allergy drops to last?

A benefit of immunotherapy, whether allergy shots or allergy drops, is that it can alter the course of the allergic disease by treating the root cause, not just the symptoms. Studies have been conducted to explore the long-lasting effect of allergy drops, including a 10-year prospective study on children with asthma, which has shown that drops have maintained effectiveness long after treatment has stopped.

The key to ensuring the long lasting effect of immunotherapy is compliance. Because allergy drops offer a more convenient method to stay with the treatment, chances are greater that patients will stay with the treatment, resulting in longer lasting effects. In fact, studies show that patients taking allergy drops tend to stay with their treatment 90 percent of the time, which is significantly higher than other routes of treatment.

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