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Allergies result from an over-reactive response by our immune system to typically harmless environmental substances. Common respiratory allergies include allergic rhinoconjunctivitis where symptoms include frequent runny nose, blocked nose, itchy nose and eyes, watery eyes and sneezing and asthma which may present with recurrent wheezing or chronic cough.
There are 2 treatment options for respiratory allergies – allergy shots and allergy drops. Both treatments are forms of allergen immunotherapy, which involves exposing patients to small doses of what they are allergic to over a period of time to reduce their sensitivity to the allergen.
Allergy shots are also known as subcutaneous immunotherapy (SCIT), subcutaneous meaning "under the skin". In SCIT, small doses of the allergen are injected into the skin (usually in the upper arm).
An alternative to allergy shots are allergy drops, which are also known as sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT). Sublingual means "under the tongue", and involves placing allergy drops (in liquid or tablet form) under the tongue.
An allergic reaction occurs when your immune system reacts to a foreign substance (allergen), such as pollen, bee venom or pet dander, or a food that doesn’t cause a reaction in most people.
This happens because your immune system makes antibodies that identify a particular allergen as harmful, even though it actually isn’t. Therefore, when you come into contact with an allergen, your immune system’s reaction can inflame your skin, sinuses, airways or digestive system.
The severity of an allergic reaction varies from person-to-person and can range from minor irritation to anaphylaxis, which is potentially life-threatening.
An important step in allergy treatment is identifying the allergy triggers. Your doctor can help you to take steps to do this. Once identified, the best way to keep your symptoms under control is often to avoid the things you’re allergic to.
Allergic reactions that are mild or moderate can be treated at home with over-the-counter or prescription medications.
Antihistamines are the main medicines for allergies. They can be used when symptoms of an allergic reaction emerge or to prevent allergic reactions if you expect to be exposed to an allergen.
Antihistamines can be taken as tablets, capsules, creams, liquids, eye drops or nasal sprays, depending on which part of your body is affected by your allergy.
Nasal decongestants can be used for short-term relief from a blocked nose caused by an allergic reaction. They are available in tablet, capsule, nasal spray or liquid form.
Nasal decongestants should not be used for more than one week at a time, as using them for long periods can worsen your symptoms.
Steroid medicines can help reduce inflammation caused by an allergic reaction. They are available in several forms:
Sprays, drops and weak steroid creams are available over the counter, while stronger creams, inhalers and tablets will require a doctor’s prescription.
Preventing exposure to environmental allergens, such as dust mites, pollen, pet dander and mould is the best way to manage them.
In the event of exposure, you may find relief by using over-the counter medications, such as an antihistamine.
Home remedies that may be helpful include:
Skin allergies such as red and itchy skin can be treated by over-the-counter creams and lotions. These include:
While they achieve the same outcome of building immunity to allergens, allergy shots and allergy drops have different benefits and drawbacks. Understanding how both forms of treatment work can help you decide which may be more suitable for your condition.
|Comparison Point||Allergy Shots||Allergy Drops|
|Targeted Allergies||Can be used to treat a wide range of options for treatment for specific seasonal and indoor allergies stemming from exposure to mould, dust mites, pet dander and pollen, as well as insect stings||Efficacy is proven for treatment of allergic rhinitis or conjunctivitis caused by allergy to grass, ragweed or dust mites|
|Administration||Each injection must be administered under physician supervision; with monitoring for an additional 30 minutes as severe reactions can occur in rare cases.||First dose of allergy drops should be administered under physician supervision. Subsequent drops can be self-administered at home.|
|Frequency||The process is divided into 2 phases: the build-up phase, and the maintenance phase.
During the build-up phase, you may receive injections once to twice a week. Each injection will contain increasing doses of allergens to allow your body to get used to the allergens. This phase can last up to 6 months.
During the next phase – the maintenance phase, injections are less frequent and can be reduced to once or twice a month. This will continue for 3 – 5 years, or until your allergy symptoms improve.
|Most allergy drops are taken on a daily basis, or a few times as week, for 3 – 5 years. Treatment length varies based on the type and severity of your allergy.|
|Effectiveness||Both allergy shots and allergy drops have been shown to improve allergy and mild asthma symptoms, reducing the need to take allergy and asthma medicines.|
|Possible Side Effects||* Allergy shots are generally safe, and side effects are usually mild.
* Common side effects include redness or swelling at the injection site. This reaction typically begins immediately or within a few hours of the injection, and will go away after several hours.
* Less common side effects include the onset of allergy symptoms, such as sneezing, hives and nasal congestion.
* In rare cases, a severe and life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis may occur. This often starts within 30 minutes of the injection, but can sometimes start later.
|* Allergy drops are generally safe, and side effects are usually mild.
* Studies have shown that patients using allergy drops are at a considerably lower risk of experiencing severe reactions than patients receiving allergy shots.
* Possible side effects include throat irritation and itching or mild swelling in the mouth.
|Suitability for Children and Infants||* Generally recommended for children 5 years old or older, as younger children may not be able to properly communicate if they are experiencing symptoms of an allergic reaction to allergy shots.
* Younger children may also be less comfortable with getting injections.
|* Most allergy drops are licensed from age 5 years or older, similar to allergy shots.
* Younger children may be more accepting of this pain-free treatment.
In conclusion, both allergy shots and allergy drops are safe and effective treatment options that reduce your body’s reaction to allergens. While allergy shots target a wider range of allergens as compared to allergy drops, the latter may be a more cost-effective and convenient option as it can be self-administered at home, without you needing to pay your doctor a visit. Allergy drops may also be more suitable for young children or adults who are afraid of needles.
It is important to consult your doctor before starting either forms of treatment. Your doctor will be able to advise you on the recommended type of treatment, as well as the possible cost and duration of treatment based on your specific allergy.