For one out of five unlucky souls in the U.S., there's no mistaking the red, swollen eyes, drippy nose, sore throat and angry, inflamed nasal passages. The average person battles the scourge of allergy season with a small arsenal of pills, drops and inhalers, to the tune of $120 a year. And that's merely to stifle symptoms. Worse yet, such treatments won't stop about 20 percent of cases of allergic rhinitis from progressing to full-blown asthma--a condition that, despite improvements in drug therapies, now kills twice as many people in the U.S. every year as it did in 1980.
One weapon to tame the overreacting immune system is immunotherapy--gradual delivery of the substances that trigger allergies to acclimate the body to the world around it. In children it has been proved to prevent the development of new allergies and even asthma. For adults it can reduce the sneezing and wheezing of rhinitis by 80 percent and reduce the need for medications by an impressive 88 percent. This approach, however, requires the patient to assume the role of pincushion--doses must be delivered via a large needle twice weekly for the first few months and then monthly for up to five years. That's a total of at least 100 shots. No wonder the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology found immunotherapy to be seriously underused.
This article was originally published with the title Drink Your Shots.