Reporting Dr. Maria Simbra
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — For people with severe allergies, shots are the best way to handle the seasonal misery of sneezing, itchy eyes and runny nose.
But who wants to get stuck with a needle, every week for 20 weeks with higher and higher doses of the allergy-causing substance?
Because the shots are hard to take, local doctors have been studying an alternative — allergy tablets.
“We thought taking whatever we put in the shots, and putting it under the tongue would have the same effect on the immune system and on the symptoms,” explains AGH allergist Dr. David Skoner.
Grass pollen is one of the most common offenders — so more than 800 adults and children took part in a trial comparing placebo to allergy tablets containing the exact same material as allergy shots for grass pollen.
The adults had a 15 percent improvement in nasal symptoms and a 25 percent improvement in eye symptoms. The children had about a 25 percent improvement in both nasal and eye symptoms.
“In some ways, I was a little bit surprised, because you didn’t know what would come out of a double-blind, placebo controlled trial,” says Dr. Skoner.
One advantage is being able to do this at home, instead of coming to the doctor for shots. You would take one grass pollen pill a day for three months. The pill dissolves under your tongue. You start this two months before allergy season begins.
The dose doesn’t increase — it’s already at maximum strength. Over time, your immune system gets used to the grass pollen so it doesn’t over-react with an allergy.
One in three people will have a few days of mild itching around the mouth, but no cases of life-threatening reactions have happened in the studies. There is still that possibility, so everyone is given an Epi-pen just in case – especially if you accidentally take too many tablets.
Right now, in the United States, this kind of therapy is only given in research trials. But the studies so far have gone well and it may be a year or so before the FDA approves it.