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 continued...
"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:
- Tree pollens
- Grass pollens
- Weed pollens
- Mold spores
- Dust mites
- Cat dander
- Insect stings
But when it comes to other types of allergy triggers -- such as
food allergies and skin reactions -- there is not enough research to support
allergy shots, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and
Before allergy shots begin, allergists identify the specific
allergen(s) with the skin scratch test, avoiding a common problem; patients who
"self-diagnose" themselves, and may reach for antihistamines under the
assumption they have seasonal hay fever when they could also be allergic to
year-round dust mites, mold, or cat dander.
Allergy shots benefit some patients more than others. Those
with hay fever tend to fare best, with more than 90% getting
"significant" relief, says Li. Allergy shots are also extremely
effective for mild-to-moderate asthma, specifically when attacks are caused by
allergies, or bee sting and other insect sensitivity.
"Allergy shots are also effective for those with cat and
dust mite allergy, but the challenge there is that there continues to be
significant continued exposure -- and avoidance of the allergen is the most
important factor in preventing symptoms," Li tells WebMD. "That's what
makes mold allergies especially difficult. You really need to stop leaky pipes
and other sources causing mold. That's why I personally have less confidence in
mold allergy shots compared to the excellent results seen for pollen, cat, and