What to know about the new immunotherapy allergy tablets treatment

PeopleImages/iStock
PeopleImages/iStock

(NEW YORK) —  With pollen season in full swing, a new immunotherapy treatment in the form of a tablet is promising some of the more than 50 million allergy sufferers in the United States an alternative to over-the-counter medicines and injections.

A new survey by the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology revealed that 73% of allergists are now offering these at-home tablets as an allergy treatment.

Unlike injections, which require repeated doctor’s office visits, or over-the-counter medications that often just mask symptoms, this new tablet treatment — while still a long-term commitment — is seen by many as a breakthrough in the allergy community.

Allergies are currently the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There are typically several ways allergy sufferers can take care of their symptoms, according to ABC News’ chief medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton. You can control your environment — reducing the allergens that cause your symptoms, she said. Or, try medications that reduce allergy symptoms by blocking the release of chemicals when the body is exposed to an allergen.

Allergy sufferers who are not satisfied with these short-term solutions might turn to immunotherapy treatments, which change the immune system’s response to allergens. The treatment gives increasing doses of the allergens to help build up tolerance. And while this was normally done with injections, there is now a tablet that can be placed under the tongue, according to Ashton.

The new tablet immunotherapy could be a good option for those who are already taking the immunotherapy shots, as they offer similar benefits in the form of relieving symptoms, according to Ashton.

The biggest difference between the two is that you can administer the tablets at home rather than having to go to the doctor’s office, although tablets are medication that need to be prescribed by a doctor.

While allergy tablets do not require repeated visits to a doctor’s office, they do require strict compliance and may require up to three years of use to work.

There is no clear answer with tablets as to how long you have to continue treatment. With the shots, a doctor will typically administer them weekly for the first three to 12 months, and then monthly after that.

Missing a dose of allergy tablets might make the treatment less effective, and would require a doctor’s office visit in order to create a new dosing schedule, experts say.

The tablets also cannot be used by all patients, including those with severe or uncontrolled asthma.

Additionally, the tablets will only take care of individual allergens, so you would need to take one tablet for each allergen that you react to. By comparison, shots are capable of taking care of multiple allergens at once.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved allergy tablets so far for only four allergens.

Ultimately, Ashton said that each person has to weigh the pros and cons to find the best allergy treatment for themselves. Allergy shots and tablets work better than medications alone, but require more work. However, many would prefer the shot or tablet treatment because they ultimately make you less allergic, rather than just reducing the symptoms.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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