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More than 50 million residents of the United States suffer from allergies today, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Allergies rank sixth as a cause of chronic illness in this country at the cost of $18 billion annually. Despite their prevalence, few people seek a permanent treatment for this condition in the form of immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is a process designed to get to the source of allergies, altering the way the immune system responds to allergens to create long-lasting relief from symptoms.
Until very recently, the primary way to administer immunotherapy was through shots in your doctor’s office. Injections of the allergen were used to expose the immune system to the substance in increasing amounts over time. This process increases the body’s tolerance to the allergen, significantly reducing symptoms like sneezing, wheezing and itchy eyes. While immunotherapy typically takes years to complete, the positive benefits are also long-lasting and even permanent in some patients. However, sometimes weekly injections just aren’t doable for everyone. We want to make sure all our patients are able to experience relief, which is why we are proud to offer another option that is both convenient, and pain-free!
What is Sublingual Immunotherapy?
Sublingual immunotherapy or SLIT is a form of immunotherapy that involves placing drops of the allergen extracts under the tongue. This form of immunotherapy has been used for years in Europe and has recently seen increased interest in the United States. A growing body of research is also supporting both the efficacy and the safety of this allergy treatment. The treatment is now available at Acadian Allergy Center, offering our patients a convenient way to address their allergies when shots are not a viable option.
Best Candidates for Sublingual Immunotherapy
We offer allergy drops for the treatment of dust mites, animal dander, cockroach, molds, weeds, trees and grass pollen. However, we do not use them for food, chemical or insect allergies. Patients that would benefit most from this therapy include:
- Off-shore workers
- Residents of rural areas who are unable to get to a clinic or cannot drive
- Severe asthmatics
- People with needle phobias
- Small children
It is also helpful for children who are afraid of needles.
How is the Treatment Done?
Sublingual immunotherapy begins with an allergy test to identify the allergen that requires treatment. We offer both skin tests and blood draws for this purpose, depending on the suspected allergens. Once we receive the results of this test, we can prepare customized vials the patient will take home to administer daily. Drops are placed under the tongue via the metered-dose vial that ensures you receive the precise amount of the allergen required for each administration.
The first four months mark the escalation stage, where the amount of the allergen is gradually increased to build the body’s tolerance of the substance. Once that is completed, the patient enters the maintenance phase where the same dose is used daily for three to four years. This extended treatment time allows the body to build up a strong immunity that will provide long-lasting relief from allergy-related symptoms.
At the beginning of the treatment, patients may continue to take allergy medication to control their symptoms as the benefits will not be seen immediately. However, most patients experience noticeable improvement within the first three to four months. Over time, patients typically find they no longer require antihistamines to control their symptoms as the drops build up sufficient immunity to keep symptoms at bay.
Sublingual Immunotherapy Risks and Side Effects
While sublingual immunotherapy has been shown to be a relatively safe treatment method, there are some side effects patients can experience with the therapy:
- Itchy mouth
- Mouth and tongue irritation
- Nasal itching, sneezing
- Asthmatic symptoms
- Stomach upset
These side effects are rare, only occurring in a very small number of patients. In most cases, they are also temporary and subside on their own within a short time frame.
Why Choose Sublingual Immunotherapy?
One of the primary reasons our patients choose sublingual immunotherapy is its convenience. Patients will be able to take their custom prepared vial of drops from the comfort of their own home. With sublingual immunotherapy, you’ll require fewer office visits than you would if you underwent treatment like weekly injections. You do not need to take time off work or out of your busy schedule to maintain your treatment program. You can even travel with your drops.
Please note that sublingual therapy is a cash pay only treatment, as is not covered by insurance, and cannot be used towards deductibles or Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). However, the cost of the treatment is very affordable and comparable to other types of allergy treatments. There is also a savings since you do not have to come into the office more than once or twice annually throughout this treatment process.
Sublingual immunotherapy drops are not for everyone. Your doctor will determine whether you are a candidate for this therapy or if another treatment would be better suited to you. Contact the Acadian Allergy Center at 337-237-0779 today to schedule your appointment to discuss your options in person.