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Allergy drops vs. shots: An easy choice

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
November 9, 2007
— Would you rather put a few drops under your tongue every day or get a weekly shot at the doctor’s office?

That’s a no-brainer.


A new allergy treatment is making inroads in the United States and providing an alternative to shots.


Dr. Ron Ragotzy, an allergist at Mercy Hospital, said he is the only provider of the drops in southern Wisconsin. The drops are safer than the shots and may work more quickly.


The Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved the drops, which have been successfully used in Europe for years.


Allergy shots and drops work because the extracts desensitize a person’s immune system. The strengths increase over the course of treatment.


The treatment works well for pollens and dust mites, with symptoms in more than 90 percent of patients improving. It also works for about two-thirds of people who have animal allergies.


The treatment doesn’t work well for molds, however.


People in the United States endure treatments that begin with weekly allergy shots in a doctor’s office for 20 weeks. The shots then are given monthly for another three to five years.


Patients must wait after shots to make sure they experience no adverse reactions, such as hives, trouble breathing or a dip in blood pressure.


Drops are simpler. They are simply placed under the patient’s tongue at home. The drops do not cause severe reactions, although some complain of itchy mouths or upset stomachs.


The drops are taken daily for three years.


Drops also can be given seasonally, although that will not rid the user of his or her allergy. For instance, some take the drops for three months beginning in July in advance of ragweed season.


Insurance does not yet cover allergy drops, Ragotzy said. But he believes that will change after FDA approval. The agency is considering approving the drops for dust mites and ragweed.


Meanwhile, Ragotzy charges $50 a month for the extract.


So far, 18 people have signed up for treatment.


Ragotzy told of one 17-year-old patient who has disabilities and uses a trachea. The boy is allergic to his cat, but his parents don’t have the heart to get rid of the animal because it is such a comfort to their son. But the boy’s allergic reactions were causing problems with his trachea.


Within two months of starting drops, the boy’s health care providers reported a much easier time keeping the trachea clean.


Ragotzy said drops gain a different entry to a body’s immune system than shots.


“So, it may be effective in a different way,” he said, adding that he never would have expected the boy to improve that quickly on allergy shots.


Ragotzy usually waits two years to decide whether allergy shots are working.


But with the drops, he said, “Within a month or two, (patients are) noticing it already.”



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