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New medicine may ease allergy suffering

For those who suffer from allergies, allergy shots are currently the best way to get symptoms under control. But a new development could change that. This week on WRVO's health and wellness show "Take Care," hosts Lorraine Rapp and Linda Lowen, speak with Dr. Linda Cox, the president of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Cox discusses allergy drops, which could potentially eliminate allergies for the user.

Lorraine Rapp: Would you please explain to us how immunotherapy works? Why introducing the allergen can actually relieve symptoms? How does that work?

Dr. Linda Cox: Well, the two types of treatment that we’re talking about, the drops and the shots, involve introducing the allergenic substance into the body in high doses. The reason you’re coming in frequently at the beginning of the allergy shots is to start it at low doses and go up to that high dose, which will in turn, teach your immune system to recognize it as a friendly substance or to become tolerant to it rather than being allergic. So what you essentially are doing is inducing tolerance to the allergen by exposing either by an injection or underneath the tongue high doses of the allergen. So there is an importance to the dose of the allergen in terms of teaching the immune system to be tolerant, rather than allergic.

Lorraine Rapp: I’m sure it’s great news for people that go in for weekly or bi-weekly shots that they may be able to transition into drops in their own home to treat their allergies. Why don’t you tell us about that development?

Cox: Well, what you’re referring to is the sublingual allergy tablets. These tablets right now that are being considered for approval by the FDA are directed at grass pollen. What these products do is they induce a tolerance to the allergen, the grass allergen. You start at least two months before season and you would take the tablet every day underneath the tongue. The safety of it is felt to be acceptable such that it can be given at home without a doctor, which is different from allergy shots. So what this offers is the allergic person the convenience of getting a treatment that will change their immune system, hopefully long term, potentially giving them a cure. What this treatment has been shown to do with the first course of treatment is you have a response. You get better with the first treatment course. Then it’s recommended you continue for three years. But then at three years, it looks like you can stop, and it looks like you might be done with your seasonal allergies.

Linda Lowen: So what we’re saying is that this first wave, which would be grass pollen, is tolerated well and the FDA approves it that eventually other types of allergens could be developed to the same form?

Cox: They’re in development actually and ragweed tablet is going to be considered at the end of this month by the FDA advisory committee.

Lorraine Rapp: Is there any downside or negative side effect to the tablets or drops?

Cox: The most common cited side effect is kind of itchiness, tingling of the mouth, which a fair percentage of people get. It’s a local effect, but it’s very early in treatment and it just seems to go away.

You can hear more of this interview WRVO's health and wellness show Take Care, Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Support for this story comes from the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York.