New Hay Fever Treatment
March 2, 2002 -- Hay fever victims, here's one more shot at relief. Instead of years of allergy shots -- which only help marginally -- researchers have come up with another solution that seems to be even better.
It's a new, improved treatment -- just six allergy shots, total -- that substantially reduces ragweed allergy symptoms, such as runny noses, sneezing, nasal congestion, and itchy, watery eyes. It nearly eliminates the need for other medications, like antihistamines and decongestants, scientists report.
"Our studies represent a major advance in the development of new treatments for allergic diseases," says lead researcher Peter Creticos, MD, associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, in a news release.
He presented his report at a special session of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology meeting in New York this weekend.
Right now, immunotherapy -- or allergy shots -- for ragweed allergies typically requires a six-month build-up phase of shots -- about 20 to 25 altogether. Then, there are maintenance shots over the next three to five years. Allergy shots also carry risk, sometimes triggering allergic reactions themselves, including swelling at the injection site, itching, and asthma.
The study involved 25 adults, all with long-term, severe ragweed allergy. Each received six injections over six weeks. Their response to inhaled ragweed was measured before and after the injections. During the rest of the ragweed season, scientists tested their immune response and symptoms.
Preliminary results showed a large reduction in hay fever symptoms and a similar reduction in allergy medication requirements during peak ragweed season, when compared with patients who received a placebo.
"The immunotherapy drug reduces the severity of symptoms and the need for other medications, while improving the quality of life for allergy sufferers," says Creticos
It also proved to be a safe drug, with no patients showing allergic reactions.
The drug works by attaching immune-boosting molecules -- called oligonucleotides -- to the major ragweed protein responsible for allergic reactions.
A variety of other inflammatory conditions, including other types of allergies, asthma, gastrointestinal disorders, and rheumatoid arthritis, could be treated using the same concept, Creticos says.
"It makes sense," says David Rosenstreich, MD, director of allergy and immunology at Albert Einstein School of Medicine in New York. "This group has been studying ways of making allergy shots faster and safer for years. This looks very, very promising."
Allergy shots are designed to slowly build up the person's "protective" immune response, while slowly suppressing their allergic response, he explains. Because oligonucleotides are "strong promoters of the protective response," it's possible to provide full immune protection with just six injections rather than the 20 to 25 weekly shots, Rosenstreich says.
This new series of shots still must go through more research and FDA approval, before it will be available to the general public. That process usually takes several years.