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Should I take allergy shots or allergy drops to treat my allergies?

Comparison of Allergy Shots and Allergy Drops

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Updated July 30, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Allergy drops, or sublingual immunotherapy, are becoming increasingly available in the United States as an alternative to allergy shots for the treatment of allergies. This therapy has been used safely and effectively in Europe for many years –- but has not become popular in the United States until recently.

Allergy drops are not currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and therefore are considered an experimental therapy. However, given the wealth of medical studies showing the safety and efficacy of allergy drops for the treatment of allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis and allergic asthma, many allergists in the United States are offering this form of immunotherapy.

Some people, therefore, may be given a choice between allergy drops and traditional allergy shots. Here are some comparison points between the two different therapies to consider when making a decision:

How Often are Shots or Drops Taken?

Shots are administered in allergy office once to twice a week for 3 to 6 months; then once to twice a month for 3 to 5 years total. Drops are self-administered once daily under the tongue at home, most often for 3 to 5 years total.

How Long Does it Take For Shots or Drops to Start Working?

Allergy shots often start working within 3 to 6 months, but definitely within 12 months, depending on how often shots are given. Some studies show that allergy drops start working within 8 weeks of therapy; other studies show benefit may take 1 to 2 years to occur.

Which Therapy is Safer – Shots or Drops?

Allergy shots are safe, but need to be given under physician supervision. Patients receiving allergy shots then need to be monitored for 20 to 30 minutes, given the small chance of a serious allergic reaction occurring. Allergy drops are extremely safe -- no fatal reactions have ever been reported, although severe reactions have rarely occurred. Allergy drops can be self-administered at home without direct medical supervision.

Which Therapy Works Better – Shots or Drops?

Studies suggest that allergy shots probably work about twice as well as allergy drops.

How Much Do the Different Therapies Cost?

Most medical insurance companies cover a significant amount of the costs of allergy shots, although co-payments and annual deductibles apply. Since allergy drops are not FDA approved, they are not covered by insurance. However, the cost of allergy drops may be offset by savings in terms of not having to spend time and travel costs to a physician’s office to receive allergy shots.

Sources:

Cox LS, Linnemann DL, Nolte H, Weldon D, Finegold I, Nelson HS. Sublingual Immunotherapy: A Comprehensive Review. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2006;117:1021-35.

Potter PC. Update on Sublingual Immunotherapy. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2006;96:S22-5.

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Allergen Immunotherapy Practice Parameters. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2003; 90:S1-40.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this site is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your physician for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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  5. Allergy Drops and Allergy Shots -- The Difference Between Allergy Drops and Allergy Shots

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