Do you find yourself sniffling and sneezing your way through spring and fall? Perhaps you deal with allergy-related fatigue, headaches, eczema, hives, sinus problems, coughing, or ear infections. Allergies aren’t life-threatening, so you may find yourself living with their bothersome symptoms year after year, but there’s a better way. Fortunately, there are a number of treatments to minimize allergy symptoms. It’s important to talk to your physician to find out which options are best for you. It’s also important to consider your budget.
Here’s a brief overview of some common treatment options, including their advantages, disadvantages, and costs.
Allergy shots. Also known as subcutaneous immunotherapy, allergy shots address the underlying allergy, not just its symptoms. They must be prescribed by a physician and are usually administered under direct supervision at the doctor’s office (due to the risk of anaphylactic reaction). Allergy shots can be a turnoff for needle-phobic patients, and most physicians won’t prescribe them to children younger than age 7 or 8. They also require a lot of time; most doctors want patients to report to their office twice a week for shots.
Costs: Many insurance companies cover allergy shots, but co-pays can add up. There are other costs as well, including those associated with driving to and from the doctor’s office as well as the time lost in the process.
Allergy drops. Allergy drop therapy (sublingual immunotherapy) is similar to allergy shots, except that it is administered as liquid droplets under the tongue. Like shots, the drops contain extracts of common allergens. As the body is exposed to these allergens, it develops immunity to them so that it stops overreacting when it encounters them in real life. The liquid drops are carried into the bloodstream through special cells in the mouth. One big perk of drops is that they are safer than shots so they can be taken at home. Allergy drops are at least as commonly prescribed in Europe as shots are, and they are becoming more and more popular here in the United States due to their ease of administration and safety.
Costs: Many insurance plans cover allergy testing and doctors’ visits associated with allergy drops, but fewer plans cover the actual sublingual serum. Many patients feel that the money saved on co-pays and the convenience of at-home administration offset the cost of allergy drops. Sublingual immunotherapy physicians commonly offer cash-pay discounts to make the treatment more affordable.
Allergy medications. These can be over-the-counter or prescription. They include antihistamines, decongestants, nasal sprays, metered-dose inhalers (for asthma), corticosteroids, antihistamine eye drops, and topical creams (for allergic skin conditions such as hives and eczema). Medications are often a good choice if you only experience allergy symptoms for several weeks of the year or less. (If you suffer from symptoms for four months or more, allergy immunotherapy is probably a better choice). Medications can take the edge off of symptoms, though some patients complain that they don’t provide full symptom relief. Medications also come with side effects that may be particularly bothersome to certain people. Another drawback of medications is that they only work in the short term. Once you stop the medications, the symptoms come right back. Only immunotherapy (through shots or drops) can alter the underlying allergy.
Cost: Costs vary. Some medications (such as asthma inhalers) can be particularly expensive, but insurance companies often defray the cost of medications.