By Robert Preidt
Allergy shots have been available for more than 100 years, while sublingual, or under-the-tongue, allergy pills were only approved for use in the United States in 2014.
But of 268 U.S. allergists surveyed last year, 73% reported prescribing under-the-tongue allergy tablets, according to allergist and lead author Dr. Anita Sivam, of Memphis, Tenn.
"Five years ago, allergy tablets hadn't been approved by the FDA and weren't being prescribed for people with allergies in the U.S.," Sivam said in a news release from the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI).
"Allergists were prescribing allergy shots because they were, and continue to be, a proven effective treatment. Once allergy tablets were approved in 2014, allergists began prescribing them for their patients," she said.
Both approaches reduce the immune system's sensitivity to an allergen, thereby easing allergy symptoms. This is called immunotherapy.
The tablets are available to treat allergic reactions to northern grass pollens, Timothy grass pollen, ragweed and house dust mites. The northern grass pollens and the Timothy grass pollen tablets are approved for patients 5 years and older, while the other two are approved for patients 18 years and older.
One way in which the tablets differ from allergy shots is that after the first tablet dose is given in an allergist's office, they can be taken at home. You place the tablets under the tongue and they dissolve.
Another big difference: "Shots are formulated by your allergist to treat your specific allergy or allergies," said study co-author Dr. Mike Tankersley. He's vice chair of the ACAAI immunotherapy and diagnostics committee, which developed the study.
The tablets target a single allergy. "Our study found that was the main barrier for allergists in prescribing tablets," Tankersley said. If a patient has more than one allergy and can travel regularly to receive allergy shots, an allergist may recommend shots over tablets, he explained.
The study was published April 2 in Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.