Allergy Shots: Underused Treatment?
Many scowl at the mention of allergy shots. But experts say they can offer lasting relief -- freeing people from daily allergy medications.
Allergy Shots May Be Cheaper
It's precisely because Claritin has gone over the counter that
these days, taking once-a-day medications may be more expensive than allergy
shots, say experts.
"Many of the standard medications used for common allergies
like hay fever are no longer paid by Medicare, Medicaid, and many private
insurance companies," says Myron Zitt, MD, chief of allergy and immunology
at the Queens Long Island Medical Group in Babylon, N.Y., and clinical
associate professor of medicine at the State University of New York, Stony
Brook, School of Medicine.
"The insurance companies say as long as one effective
medicine is available over the counter, patients should take it -- and not more
expensive prescription drugs," he tells WebMD. "So unlike in years
past, they no longer cover those other drugs. The cost has shifted from the
insurance companies to the patients."
Meanwhile, allergy shots continue to be covered by insurance
companies -- usually in full or with a modest co-pay. But even before Claritin
went over the counter and changed the insurers' rules, allergy shots still
seemed to make good economic sense, at least in the medical community.
In April 2000, Respiratory Reviews published a study
indicating that a patient's out-of-pocket drug costs for treating year-round
allergic rhinitis was $1,200. But researcher Timothy J. Sullivan III, MD, of
Emory University, calculated that the same patient would pay only $800 for the
first year of allergy shots -- the most expensive year. In following years,
when allergy shots are done monthly or even less frequently, those costs drop
to between $290 and $170. Over six years, that amounts to a $1,300 to $2,900
savings with allergy shots, that study shows.
And there's the August 1999 study in TheNew England Journal
of Medicine that shows allergy shots to treat grass pollens can provide up
to three years of additional relief after treatment has ended. "Once
you stop antihistamines and other drugs, you're right back where you
started," says Zitt. Even a couple of missed doses can do that.
Allergy Shots and the Triggers They Fight
Allergy shots are effective against all sorts of allergy
triggers that float in the air, including: