By Krys T. Alimurka, M.D.
Roughly 50 million Americans currently suffer from allergies. Of that number, only 5 percent receive treatment that can actually alter the underlying disease. The other 95 percent-more than 47 million people-either suffer with their symptoms or treat them through prescriptions or over-the-counter medication. While allergy sufferers might find temporary relief, these medications are just that-a temporary treatment that masks symptoms short term.
That startling statistic may soon change. The only known treatment that can change allergic disease and provide long-term or permanent relief is immunotherapy. Immunotherapy works by slowly desensitizing an allergic person to the substance that causes their reaction. Traditionally, allergy shots or injections have been the standard way to offer immunotherapy in the United States. But many of those allergy sufferers who are most sensitive, as well as young children and people with other chronic allergy-related illness such as asthma or sinusitis, may not be candidates for shots. Many are unwilling to undergo shots because of an aversion to needles. For some, their lifestyles may not allow the weekly, bi-weekly or monthly injection appointments, or they may live in remote areas where shots aren't easily accessible.
In recent years, a different form of immunotherapy has begun to offer allergy sufferers another option for long-term solutions. Allergy drops, or sublingual immunotherapy, uses the same antigens that are used in injections, but they are taken through a liquid drop that is delivered under the tongue. Drops are taken daily, can be taken by patients at home, and have been shown through research to be very effective. Clinical evidence also shows that allergy drops can be used for a broader range of allergies-including foods and molds — and a broader range of conditions-including eczema and chronic sinusitis — that can make them a preferred method of immunotherapy.
Perhaps one of the most compelling benefits of sublingual immunotherapy is its safety profile, which allows infants and children to begin allergy immunotherapy at an age when the immune system is still developing. Research has shown that immunotherapy — whether injection or by allergy drop-can help slow the progression of additional allergy development, and potentially even asthma. By treating the very young, we could have a great impact on a generation of would-be allergy sufferers.
We know immunotherapy works. As a board-certified allergist, I used injection immunotherapy for more than 20 years and saw its benefit. Today, I see an opportunity to make the treatment more accessible for all patients with the addition of sublingual immunotherapy. We can help offer more relief, and reduce millions of dollars in hospitalization, medication, and lost time from school and work.
For the 95 percent of allergy sufferers who may have resigned themselves to long-term medication to treat symptoms or endless suffering, and for those who are interested in treating them, that's welcome news.
Dr. Alimurka is board certified in Pediatric and Adult Allergy by the American Board of Internal Medicine and the American Board of Allergy and Immunology. She is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. She is a graduate of the University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Dr. Alimurka is a member of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, the Tennessee Medical Association, the Tennessee Society of Allergy, the Clinical Immunology Society, the Southern Medical Association, the Southeastern Allergy Association, the Chattanooga and Hamilton County Medical Society and the Chattanooga Regional Oncology Association.
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