Can you eliminate your seasonal allergies?
For most people suffering from allergies, the better question might be “can you eliminate your seasonal misery?” For millions of Americans, spring isn’t just the beginning of warmer weather, brilliant blooms and outdoor fun, it’s the beginning of constant sneezing, agonizing congestion, watery eyes and massive headaches. Allergies are the fifth most prevalent chronic condition afflicting one out of four people worldwide.
According to a 2002 study by Lockheed Martin, allergies are the number one medical condition negatively affecting worker productivity. Allergies are also very expensive. In 2005, Americans spent $11 billion on doctors’ bills, prescription drugs, and other medical care to relieve allergy symptoms, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).
In this article, we will explore a safe and inexpensive method of allergy treatment that can effectively eliminate your allergies.
What are allergies?
An allergy is a hyper immune response or reaction to substances that are generally not harmful. The immune system normally protects the body against harmful substances, such as bacteria and viruses. In some people, it also reacts to foreign substances called allergens, which are generally harmless molecules and in most people do not cause a problem. But in a person with allergies, the immune system is oversensitive. When it recognizes an allergen, it releases chemicals such as histamine which fight off the allergen. This causes itching, swelling, nasal congestion, watery eyes, sneezing, runny nose, muscle spasms, hives, rashes, and other symptoms, which vary from person to person.
While there are several categories of allergies, by far the most prevalent is allergic rhinitis. Allergic rhinitis, otherwise known as hay fever or environmental (inhalant) allergies is most commonly associated with ragweed, trees, grasses or pet dander. If left untreated, it can aggravate or lead to other conditions such as asthma and sinusitis.
For most people, all this boils down to one word: misery. People who suffer from allergies simply feel terrible much of the time and the negative impact on their life is real and substantial.
Can Allergies Be Eliminated?
Antihistamines have traditionally been the most common treatment for allergic rhinitis. Antihistamines provide temporary relief of allergy symptoms by blocking the effects of the chemical histamine released by the immune system when it encounters an otherwise harmless allergen molecule. But this temporary relief comes at a price and not just at the cash register. Common side effects include headaches, dry mouth, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea and sometimes hypertension.
One of the simplest strategies to combat your allergies is avoidance. If you’re allergic to cottonwood and you have a cottonwood tree in your back yard, consider having it removed. If you’re allergic to cats and you allow a cat to sleep in your bed, by all means keep the cat out of your bedroom at night. Reducing your contact with allergic substances will decrease your allergy symptoms.
Immunotherapy has proven to be the only effective way to actually eliminate allergies. Immunotherapy works by introducing a very small amount of the allergen into the lymphatic system which increases the tolerance of the immune system over time. In approximately three years, the immune system can be recalibrated so that the environmental level of an allergen no longer causes a reaction.
Allergy shots, or subcutaneous immunotherapy (SCIT) have traditionally been the most common method of immunotherapy in America. Allergy shots are effective and relatively safe. Patients who receive weekly allergy shots from an allergist generally experience relief from their allergies.
Unfortunately, only 40% of patients who begin SCIT actually complete the three year treatment plan. Traveling to an allergist for weekly allergy shots is can be very inconvenient. With a typical office visit copay of $20 per week, the additional $160 out-of-pocket cost every two months is simply too expensive for some.
In addition to the inconvenience and cost, the side effects from allergy shots can be serious, ranging from painful irritation to – in very rare cases – death. Anaphylaxis, a relatively rare but potentially lethal SCIT side effect is rapid in onset and typically results in a number of symptoms including an itchy rash, throat swelling, and low blood pressure. Because of the risk of serious side effects, a 30-minute postinjection observation period is highly recommended.
Fortunately, a newer form of treatment, sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) is rapidly gaining acceptance in the medical establishment. SLIT works to effectively eliminate allergies under the same medical theory as allergy shots and uses the same medication – a small amount of the allergen introduced over time into the lymphatic system. The only essential difference is the method of delivery. With SLIT, a patient places a few drops of the medication under their tongue each morning and they’re done. With daily allergy drops, there are no weekly trips to an allergist and no shots.
Safety of SLIT
With any treatment, safety is a primary concern. On this score, allergy drops have an unsurpassed record. In the 60 year history of SLIT, there has never been a single death associated with the treatment and there has also been a noticeable absence of serious side effects. Allergy drops are safe for children down to 3 years of age. The Johns Hopkins Sinus Center website (www.hopkinsmedicine.org/sinus/allergy/sublingual_immunotherapy.html) has this to say about the safety of SLIT: “It is very safe, for both adults and children. Patients take the drops in the convenience of their own homes instead of going to the doctor’s office every week for shots. The World Health Organization (WHO) has endorsed sublingual immunotherapy as a viable alternative to injection immunotherapy.”
Effectiveness of SLIT
While allergy drops and allergy shots are equally effective in eliminating allergies, patients begin to see results from allergy drops much more rapidly. To avoid the possibility of serious side effects with allergy shots, the level of allergen in each injection must be slowly increased over a period of approximately four months to the “maintenance” level. Because allergy drops are so safe, the escalation phase for allergy drops is less than two weeks. According to Scott Rollins, M.D., 2004 Colorado Family Physician of the Year, patients therefore see dramatic improvements in their allergy symptoms in 60 to 120 days. The Johns Hopkins Sinus Center website notes: “Many published scientific studies have shown that [allergy drops] significantly reduces allergy symptoms.”
Cost and Convenience
In April 2000, Respiratory Reviews published a study indicating that a patient’s out-of-pocket cost for over the counter and prescription medications treatment for year-round allergic rhinitis was $1,200. The out-of-pocket copay for allergy shots usually cost in excess of $1,000 a year. Through Physician Consulting Inc.’s allergy treatment program, a SLIT treatment kit of allergy drops costs $75 plus $15 shipping for at total of $90 for a two month supply of universal allergenic extract that treats 70 different environmental allergies such as ragweed, mold, tree and plant allergies as well as a variety of animals (dogs, cats, horses, cattle). This equals an annual cost for allergy drops of $540 a year. Your primary care physician, once registered with Physician Consulting Inc., can write the prescription for allergy drops and the treatment kit is shipped directly to your home. You then return to your physician every two months for a new 60 day prescription. If you are like most patients, your immune system tolerance will be recalibrated over a three year period and SLIT treatment can be discontinued.
How to Obtain Treatment
Physician Consulting Inc. (PCI) will provide your primary care physician with the information necessary for them to provide this treatment for you. Just register here and you will receive an email with instructions on contacting your physician about this treatment.