Learn About Allergy Drops, a Form of Sublingual Immunotherapy
Updated May 30, 2015.
Allergy drops are used for the treatment of allergies as an alternative to traditional allergy shots. Like other forms of immunotherapy this treatment involves giving an individual with a confirmed allergy minute amounts of the allergen that causes their symptoms in an effort to desensitize the immune system to that allergen. Some healthcare providers also describe this phenomenon as "building up a tolerance" to a given allergen.
In this manner allergy symptoms can be significantly reduced or even cured. Allergy drops are more convenient and also less painful than traditional allergy shots since all but the first dose can usually be taken by the patient at home.
Sublingual immunotherapy is widely used in many European, South American and Asian countries and is becoming more popular in the United States. In the U.S. allergy drops are sometimes prescribed "off label" since they are not yet approved by the FDA. Some types of sublingual immunotherapy, particularly in the form of a sublingual tablets, have been approved including Grastek, and Ragwitek. Allergy drops are becoming available for a wide variety of allergies including allergies to grass pollens, tree and weed pollens, allergies to molds, allergies caused by cat and dog dander, dust mites. Research also suggests that allergy drops may be effective for the treatment of food allergies including life threatening peanut allergies.
Before undergoing immunotherapy with allergy drops, allergy testing via skin testing or a blood test which looks for IgE antibodies must be performed.
Immunotherapy is best administered under the supervision of a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of allergies called an immunologist.
The allergen is administered in the form of a liquid which is placed under the tongue. The first dose should be given in your doctor's office and you should be monitored for a period of time after receiving the medication in case of a severe allergic reaction. If no such reaction occurs the drops can usually be safely administered at home. This eliminates the inconvenience of traveling to your healthcare provider's office each week for injections.
Allergy drops are usually started approximately 4 months (12 weeks) before the start of a given allergy season and continued throughout that season. Many specialists recommend that the treatment be continued for a period of 3-5 years.
All forms of immunotherapy including allergy drops have the risk of inducing a serious allergic reaction or even life threatening anaphylaxis. For this reason all patients who are receiving allergy drops should be given a prescription for auto-injectable epinephrine and instruction how to use it. Individuals are taught to use the injection if they experience symptoms of a severe allergic reaction including: difficulty breathing, flushing of the face or neck, wheezing, rapid swelling of the face, mouth or tongue, drooling, difficulty speaking or a rapid heartbeat.
Individuals who have underlying health conditions which may impair their ability to survive a serious allergic reaction are generally not considered as candidates for sublingual immunotherapy including allergy drops. People who have unstable asthma, eosinophilic esophagitis, or who are taking beta blockers often fall into this category.
Despite the possibility of anaphylaxis, clinical trials have shown that the risk is very small and that in general allergy drops are very safe to use in both adults and children.
All American Allergy Alternatives LLC. Accessed: May 30, 2015 from http://www.allamericanallergy.com/patients.html
Allergychoices Incorporation. Allergies to Pets and Animals. Accessed: May 30, 2015 from http://www.allergychoices.com/WhyAllergyDrops/AboutAllergyDrops/Conditions/AllergiestoPets.aspx
American College of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. Sublingual Immunotherapy. Accessed: May 30, 2015 from http://acaai.org/allergies/treatment/sublingual-immunotherapy-slit
Johns Hopkins Medicine. Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery. Sublingual Immunotherapy. Accessed: May 30, 2015 from http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/otolaryngology/specialty_areas/sinus_center/sublingual_immunotherapy.html