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Published on April 04, 2013

Allergy drops provide pain-free alternative to shots

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Many Americans are familiar with allergy shots as a form of relief from the itchy eyes, runny noses and sneezing of seasonal allergies, but new medical research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has found an oral alternative may be just as effective.

Allergy specialists at University of Missouri Health Care's ENT and Allergy Center of Missouri are prescribing the treatment, called "sublingual immunotherapy" or "allergy drops," to relieve the symptoms of allergy sufferers.

The therapy allows patients to administer their own treatment at home by placing drops of liquid under their tongues. The drops contain tiny amounts of allergen extracts unique to each patient's particular allergies, such as pollen and mold. Unlike traditional allergy shots, which require patients to receive weekly injections at their allergist's clinic, allergy drops require no needles and can be taken at home.

"Allergy drops have been used for decades by physicians in Europe, but they currently are not widely prescribed in the United States," said Robert Zitsch, M.D., an otolaryngologist at MU Health Care. "This new research confirms that allergy drops are an effective alternative to weekly injections for patients seeking relief."

Allergy drops typically bring allergy relief after a couple of months, while allergy shots may take up to a year. With either treatment, patients can expect to continue the therapy for three to five years before finally stopping all allergy medications. Allergy drops have been endorsed by the World Health Organization, but have not yet been approved by the FDA. 

"Allergy drops are a good alternative to allergy shot therapy for people needing immunotherapy treatment," Zitsch said. "During the past few decades, allergy seasons in the United States have become progressively worse as spring has brought warmer, wetter weather earlier. Allergy experts project this year and future years to continue to be bad for allergy sufferers."

Zitsch said there rarely are side effects to allergy drops, and they often are mild if they occur. He prescribes them for patients of all ages. He said allergy drops are a popular treatment option for children, who often feel anxiety around needles. Allergy specialists at the ENT and Allergy Center of Missouri give patients a choice whether they want to receive allergy injections or drops.

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