Allergy Immunotherapy Helps Control Asthma

Oral allergy immunotherapy — in the form of drops or tablets — is effective at reducing asthma symptoms and the need for asthma medications in children who have what’s known as allergic asthma, a new study finds.

The findings bolster hopes that these oral medications might someday replace injections, never a hit with kids.

Commonly known as allergy shots in the United States, allergy immunotherapy works in a manner similar to vaccines — essentially re-educating the body’s immune system so that it doesn’t overreact to harmless substances such as pollen or dust mites. While this therapy can be effective, it’s currently only available via injections in the United States, and usually involves at least one to two shots a week for three to six months, making it a less-than-popular alternative with children.

Oral immunotherapy is available in Europe, but has yet to gain Food and Drug Administration approval in the United States.

The new study reviewed nine studies that looked at the use of so-called sublingual (oral) immunotherapy in children with asthma. A total of 441 kids between the ages of 3 and 18 who had been diagnosed with allergic asthma were included in the studies. Allergic asthma means that asthma symptoms can be triggered by exposure to an allergen, such as dust mites, pollen or mold.

Two hundred and thirty-two children received oral immunotherapy and the remaining 209 got a placebo.

The dosing schedule varied depending on the study and whether drops or tablets were used. Canonica said that during the maintenance phase of immunotherapy, drops or tablets were given three times a week. The average duration of the studies was 12 months. The most common allergen treated was dust mites. Grass mix and pollen were also included in one study each.

The researchers found that those taking sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) had significantly fewer symptoms and needed to take less asthma medication. Not enough of the studies included measurements of lung function for the new study to assess whether SLIT affects lung function significantly.

Additionally, SLIT appeared to be better tolerated than allergy shots. The chances of a severe reaction are less with oral immunotherapy than with the injected type, according to an allergist/immunologist at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.