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Treating Allergies Without Shots

Under-the-Tongue Medication May Be Safe for Adults and Children
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March 18, 2005 -- Under-the-tongue medications may safely treat allergies in little kids and ease dust mite allergies in adults.

Two new Italian studies report favorable results with under-the-tongue treatments called sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) that boost immunity to allergy triggers.

The studies were fairly small, but they each spanned two years. The findings may point to new approaches to easing allergies.

In the U.S., allergy shots are the preferred way to treat allergies. They involve injecting gradual amounts of allergens, the stuff that triggers allergies, over several months. But due to the possible severity of side effects, allergy shots aren't recommended for children younger than 5 years.

Under-the-tongue immunotherapy has been widely used in Europe for the last decade, says a news release.

Effective Against Dust Mites

In one study, the under-the-tongue immunotherapy went up against a well-known allergen: dust mites.

Sixty-eight adults who were allergic to dust mites and/or had asthma were followed for two years. They either got standard allergy medications and a placebo, or allergy medications and under-the-tongue immunotherapy treatments.

The under-the-tongue treatment group had a significantly greater drop in nasal obstruction, nasal itching, and cough. They also reported a bigger change in health status. That change was for the better, since those participants didn't make as many extra doctor visits as the placebo takers.

The under-the-tongue drug was "clinically effective in patients with [dust mite allergies] and asthma, decreasing medical costs," say Carlo Lombardi, MD, of South Orsola Hospital in Brescia, Italy.

In a second study, Italian researchers followed 126 children aged 3-5 years taking the under-the-tongue immunotherapy treatment. All the kids had respiratory allergies.

The kids took the therapy for at least two years. Their parents noted any side effects, rating them as mild (no intervention or dose adjustment), moderate (medical treatment and/or dose reduction), or severe (life threatening/hospitalization/emergency care).

Nine side effects were reported in seven children. Two cases of oral itching and one of abdominal pain were mild, while six stomach-related side effects were controlled by lowering the dose, say the researchers.

All of the side effects were seen when doses were being increased. The treatment's effectiveness was "excellent" in the majority of the cases, say the University of Genoa's Giovanni Passalacqua, MD, and colleagues.

The findings were reported at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, held in San Antonio.

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