While 30 to 40 percent of people in the U.S. experience allergy symptoms, there’s no reason you should suffer for months at a time. With multiple treatment options available – and more in development – you have options to end your suffering.
A lot of people have stories about how they were tortured with allergy shots when they were younger. Truthfully, allergy shots haven’t changed much over the years. They are still a highly effective treatment for asthma, allergic rhinitis (hay fever), and eye allergies in patients who have tested positive on skin testing.
When patients are not doing well with traditional allergy medications such as antihistamines and nasal sprays, we discuss allergy shots. For many patients, they are the best option for treatment – patients often tell us they feel miraculously better after starting allergy shots.
Allergy shots are also known as subcutaneous immunotherapy, or treatment given under the skin. By injecting a small amount of the allergens into your body, we train the immune system to tolerate the allergen, thus improving symptoms. Often when patients finally come in to my office, they are polysensitized, meaning they are allergic to multiple allergens – pollen, pets and dust mites, just to name a few. A benefit to allergy shots is that we can treat multiple allergens at a time.
Allergy shots involve a significant time commitment up front, but are more manageable as time goes on. For the first three to six months, you will need to come in for shots one or two times each week, then once a month after that for three to five years. People who opt for allergy shots receive injections year round, not just during allergy season.
Sublingual immunotherapy is already popular in Europe and is becoming more readily available in the United States. This option changes the immune system in much the same way as allergy shots, but instead of receiving an injection, you simply put a tablet containing a small amount of the allergen under your tongue.
While this is done on a daily basis, you can do it at home. There is no need to make frequent trips to our office. You also only take the tablet for three to four months before and then during allergy season, and not year-round as you do with allergy shots, so you get a little break from it.
The downside to sublingual immunotherapy is that it’s only available for a few allergens right now, which are ragweed and grass. In our area, grass pollinates in the spring and ragweed pollinates in the fall.
Patients for whom we think grass and/or ragweed are the dominant issue, sublingual immunotherapy may be a good course of treatment.
When to see an allergist
If you are putting off seeing an allergist because you are scared of skin testing, don’t be. For the initial scratch test, it’s just a little poke on the skin; we don’t draw any blood. I describe it as touching the back of an earring or a safety pin. In a few cases, we may need to do further testing, which includes a little injection under the skin. We generally test for the seasonal tree pollens, grass pollens, and weed pollens, and then the year round allergens, including cat, dog, roach, dust mite, and molds.
For many people, over-the-counter antihistamines and nasal sprays can effectively manage their allergy symptoms. However, if you find that these medications are not working and your quality of life is affected, make an appointment with an allergist. There’s no reason to keep taking medications that are not working or barely working when there are more effective therapies available. To schedule an allergy consultation, call 585-922-8350, or go online to find our hours and locations.