No more shots? Allergy sufferers find new relief in liquid drops

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The mild winter was welcome weather to many people, except perhaps allergy sufferers. The early arrival of spring means a longer pollen season and generally worse symptoms for many people throughout Ohio. 

However, a new treatment may allow some patients with allergies to replace weekly injections with a few liquid drops.   

SLIT (sublingual immunotherapy) utilizes under-the-tongue liquid drops and has shown success in alleviating allergy symptoms – not to mention being more convenient for patients. 

Jeannie Lilly started SLIT therapy in 2012 after meeting with allergy and immunology doctors at Ohio State. She found relief by taking a couple liquid drops each morning to treat her pollen allergies. 

“I can finally sit on my deck and not worry about it,” Lilly says. “My allergies are controlled.”

Kara Wada, MD, an allergy and immunology specialist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, says SLIT is a type of immunotherapy treatment, which aims to condition a person’s immune system to no longer be irritated by certain allergens, such as pollen.  

How does SLIT work?  

SLIT exposes a patient to small doses of what they are allergic to, in an effort to change their immune system. With time, the patient’s body goes from attacking something that it shouldn’t attack to essentially ignoring it.

Which allergies can SLIT treat?

SLIT has been used to treat pollen, dust mites, mold and pet dander allergies, says Dr. Wada.

The first dose is administered in the office under the supervision of an allergist. If that goes well, patients can continue the treatment from home by placing a few drops of the extract under their tongue each day. 

Dr. Wada cautions that SLIT is not designed to be a quick fix for allergy sufferers. 

“The treatment is repeated every day for three to five years, as it takes a long time for the immune system to change for the long-term,” according to Dr. Wada.

Who is a candidate for SLIT?

SLIT works more effectively with patients who have a limited number of allergies. If a patient is allergic to a lot of different things, Dr. Wada usually recommends he or she continue injections. Additionally, SLIT is a therapy well-suited for patients who are unable to come to the office for weekly immunotherapy injections. 

How many drops do patients need to use? 

Dr. Wada uses a gradual build-up process starting with about two drops of a diluted mixture, eventually working toward three drops of a more concentrated formula. While SLIT has been demonstrated to be quite safe when it comes to anaphylactic reactions (whole body allergic reactions), a gradual build up to multiple drops is the safest approach.  

How does it taste? 

There is a glycerin additive in the extract that keeps it from breaking down which gives the drops a sweet, albeit medicinal, taste. If you don’t like it, you can eat or drink something five minutes after taking the drops, according to Dr. Wada.   

Are there risks associated with SLIT?

In very rare cases, patients can have a serious whole body allergic reaction. More commonly, patients experience minor itching or mild swelling in the mouth.   

How effective is SLIT in reducing my allergy symptoms?

Dr. Wada says the treatment is quite effective. Studies suggest that SLIT and allergy injections are the only treatments that help cut down on the amount of medicine allergy sufferers need over the long term. Patients should see improvement within the first year of treatment or doctors will re-evaluate the treatment plan.  

How much does SLIT cost and is it covered by insurance? 

It costs about $60 a month. Dr. Wada points out that, unlike allergy shots, drops  – such as SLIT – are considered an off-label treatment by the Food and Drug Administration and not covered by insurance. 

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