New Immunotherapy Offers Relief to Allergy Sufferers

Monday, April 27, 2015
Brian Shaffer, MD

Nearly one in six Americans suffers from allergic rhinitis, sometimes called hay fever. Common triggers include seasonal allergens like grass, tree and weed pollens, but many experience year-round symptoms from triggers like dust, mold, and pets.  For many, allergy symptoms started early this year because of the recent, unseasonably warm weather.  Symptoms can range from mild to quite debilitating, and include nasal congestion, runny nose, itching, sneezing, and post-nasal drainage.  Allergy can also contribute to conditions such as asthma and chronic sinusitis.

Allergic rhinitis can usually be diagnosed based on a careful history and physical exam.  When more information is wanted or needed, then allergy testing can be performed to pinpoint a person's specific triggers.  Treatment often begins with basic environmental controls like minimizing exposure to known triggers, planning the day carefully when pollen counts are high, and using certain air filters at home.  Medications include both over-the-counter and prescription options such as antihistamines and nasal sprays.  In fact, billions of dollars are spent annually on these medications.  For those who do not find adequate relief with medications or seek a more lasting alternative, immunotherapy can be performed, traditionally known as "allergy shots."

A newer form of immunotherapy is now offered at The Oregon Clinic Westside ENT, called sublingual immunotherapy, or "SLIT."  Rather than an injection, SLIT involves placement of drops underneath the tongue at home.  SLIT is as safe as allergy shots, and more comfortable and convenient.  Like allergy shots, SLIT is a way of desensitizing the body to its allergy triggers.  The treatment is tailored for each individual patient based on their allergy test results.  Treatment is continued over two years, with the goal of achieving decades of symptom relief.  With SLIT, many people are able to rid themselves completely of allergy medications, or at a minimum significantly reduce their need for them.  

The Oregon Clinic Westside ENT practice was one of the first in the Portland area to offer SLIT, and also continues to perform allergy testing and offer allergy shots.