The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 50 million people in the United States suffer from allergies. That’s about 30 percent of adults and 40 percent of children. While those numbers include food allergies, a sizable portion respond to pollen and other springtime allergy triggers (allergens) with constant runny noses, watery and itchy eyes, sneezing, and undereye circles that no amount of sleep will cure.
Allergies are miserable to experience and distressing for parents and other loved ones to witness. There are several effective steps you can take to help limit your exposure or your child’s, but it’s often impossible to avoid spring altogether. When pollen counts are high, even a quick trip from your office to the car can trigger an allergy attack.
Dr. Modlin prefers to treat allergies with immunotherapy delivered via sublingual (under the tongue) drops rather than injections. He’s happy to explain how this therapy can help prevent allergic responses before the first bloom of spring.
Allergies and your immune system
Your immune system is determined to keep you as healthy as possible. When it detects a foreign substance in your system that it deems dangerous, it produces antibodies that attach themselves to the “invader” and call for troop support from disease-fighting agents in your body.
This is a great plan when that foreign substance is an illness-producing bacteria or virus or a rogue cell that may be responsible for cancer. It’s not so great when your immune system mistakes pollen from ragweed season, that you’ve inhaled during a trip to the mailbox, as an opponent worthy of doing battle with.
Allergies are caused by an overactive immune system that has your best interests in mind but could benefit from a little retraining. That’s the underlying concept of immunotherapy.
How immunotherapy for allergies works
Immunotherapy is much like a vaccine against your allergens. We give you small doses of the substance you’re allergic to, gradually increasing the strength, until your immune system develops a tolerance for the substance it once treated as an invader.
Immunotherapy for allergies generally requires two phases:
- The build-up phase, which normally requires frequent treatments with increasing amounts of the allergen
- The maintenance phase, which begins once a dose is reached that effectively controls your allergic response
The maintenance phase requires less frequent treatments that are designed to further train your immune system to ignore the allergen in question.
Many patients detect a decrease in symptoms during the build-up phase, but it may take longer to notice definitive improvement overall. If immunotherapy is successful, we generally recommend you continue maintenance treatment for three to five years.
The difference between sublingual immunotherapy and injections
Both methods begin with allergy testing, usually a skin test, that helps us identify which substances are causing your symptoms.
According to your test results, we then develop an allergen extract into drops that are placed under your tongue. You’ll hold them there for one to two minutes and then swallow. We’ll administer the first dose in the office to make sure you don’t have any negative reaction to the drops. After that, you can take the drops at home and return for periodic follow-up visits, so we can evaluate how you’re doing and make dose adjustments as necessary.
Like traditional immunotherapy delivered via injection, it’s recommended you continue the drops as directed for three to five years so that you build a lasting immunity. It’s a long-term commitment but a safe and effective treatment against springtime allergies that most patients find well worth the investment.
Our goal is to give you the freedom to enjoy springtime. In the short-term, however, we do recommend you continue to follow some common-sense tips for avoiding allergen exposure when possible, including:
- Monitoring daily pollen counts and closing windows and doors when counts are high
- Removing clothing you’ve worn outside and showering to remove pollen from skin and hair, especially on those high-count days.
- Avoiding outside activity in the morning since pollen counts are usually at their highest then
If you have further questions about preventing springtime allergies with drops you can start now, call for an appointment or book your visit online.