One out of five Americans suffer from allergies. For some, allergies are simply a short lived nuisance. However, for millions it is a life altering disease. The only treatment that reprograms the overacting immune system, changing the underlying allergic disease instead of temporarily treating symptoms, is immunotherapy. It actually involves administering the substances that trigger allergies to the patient on a regular basis. This slowly allows the patient to acclimate to his or her environment.
Most patients undergoing desensitization treatments receive immunotherapy allergy shots, a series of injections with gradually increasing doses that, over time, can build the body's tolerance to an antigen thus reducing symptoms and medication needs. Shots are reasonably effective, but have several disadvantages, the two most important being discomfort and potential adverse reactions.
Another alternative is Sublingual Immunotherapy ("SLIT" or "allergy drops"). Allergy drops treatment follows the same pattern and uses the same FDA approved antigens. The difference is that the drops containing the antigens are delivered to cells through a much friendlier route, the mouth (oral mucosa). Whereas allergy shots are typically given once or twice a week in the doctor's office, allergy drops are taken 2-3 times a day at home. They taste sweet and only take a few seconds to administer.This provides another option for patients who are not candidates for or refuse injection therapy. Allowing the treatment of young children is perhaps the most important benefit of sublingual immunotherapy. This is important as there is mounting evidence that treating allergy triggers early in life can decrease the risk of developing asthma in later years. Two childhood allergic conditions, atopic dermatitis and recurrent otitis media, may also benefit from sublingual immunotherapy. It is important to note that a significant portion of children with untreated atopic dermatitis eventually go on to develop asthma.
Another advantage is the ability to treat patients who did not respond well to shots. Food and mold allergies, in particular, have proven to be difficult to treat well with conventional therapies. I the case of food allergens, the sublingual method is the only viable type of immunotherapy. In addition, SLIT can be used to treat multiple allergies simultaneously.