Kids are struggling with allergies at a much higher rate than they used to. Consider these statistics:
- The incidence of food allergies in U.S. children increased by 50 percent between 1997 and 2011. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Allergies to peanuts and tree nuts more than tripled between 1997 and 2008. (Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology)
- Between 2001 and 2011, asthma rates increased by 25 percent, with black children experiencing the biggest surge (nearly a 50% increase). (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
- Asthma now affects one out of every 15 kids and is the leading chronic illness for children in the United States. (Population Reference Bureau)
Challenges in Pediatric Allergy Care
If you are a pediatrician, you may be used to referring your young patients out for allergy care. This may have posed some challenges in terms of a loss of continuity of care. And depending on where you live, allergists may be in short supply or be located too far away for your patients to go regularly for allergy shots—and that’s if they’re eligible for shots. Most allergists won’t prescribe allergy immunotherapy for children younger than age 7. This leaves younger children to make do, usually with a combination of medications that can have side effects and don’t fix the underlying issue.
Sublingual Immunotherapy vs. Subcutaneous Immunotherapy
As pediatricians explore options for their pediatric patients with allergies, many are recommending sublingual immunotherapy. Sublingual immunotherapy was developed in the 1980s as a safer alternative to allergy shots (subcutaneous immunotherapy).
While both forms of immunotherapy can accomplish the task of desensitizing the body to allergens in the environment, sublingual immunotherapy has a lower risk for anaphylactic reaction than shots do. This is because the antigen is dispensed as liquid drops under the tongue. The tissue under the tongue has a higher density of allergen-presenting cells than any other part of the body. Rather than overreacting to antigens, they resort to tolerance, giving sublingual immunotherapy an outstanding track record for safety.
In addition to being safer than shots, allergy drops for kids have the corner on convenience. Busy families can find it very difficult to get their children to the doctor’s office regularly for allergy shots, but allergy drops can be taken in the comfort of home. And while children may dread having a needle stuck into their arm, most won’t argue with having a few drops dispensed under their tongue once each day.
Sublingual Immunotherapy for Food Allergy
Another big advantage of sublingual immunotherapy is that, unlike allergy shots, it has been shown to be safe and effective for food allergies. Even though 1 in 12 children (roughly two per school classroom) now have food allergies, the only real strategy for dealing with them has been avoidance. This can be extremely challenging, however, for the 40% of children with food allergies who are allergic to more than one food item.
For example, it is not uncommon for a child to be allergic to some combination of wheat, milk, and eggs. Imagine trying to get your child all of the necessary nutrients while avoiding these common foods. Sublingual immunotherapy is a much-needed treatment for a fast-growing problem that has previously had no good treatment options.
A Race Against the Clock: The Advantages of Starting Early with Allergy Desensitization
There are, of course, medications that can tide a child over until they are old enough for allergy shots, but there are advantages to pursing desensitization therapy early in life. Studies now show that intervening early with immunotherapy can curb risks for allergic conditions as children grow.
This progression of allergic conditions from one organ to the next is known as the allergic march. It is characterized by a pattern that begins with atopic dermatitis in infants followed by food allergies, allergic rhinitis, and asthma in children, teenagers, and adults.
New research shows that if you can treat allergies at a young age, you can do far more than just restore quality of life to a child; you can help decrease allergy-related illness, prevent surgeries, and curb the risk for chronic allergic disease in adulthood.
Skip the Side Effects of Meds
Another advantage of sublingual immunotherapy for children is that it is natural. The allergy drops contain extracts of the same pollens that you breathe in every day in nature suspended in a saline solution. Compare that to the cocktail of chemicals you find in over-the-counter or prescription medications.
Children may experience a raft of side effects from allergy medications, but sublingual immunotherapy is largely free of negative side effects and can be taken long-term without adverse effects.
A Lasting Approach
While medications can treat symptoms in the short term, they do nothing to affect the allergies themselves. Immunotherapy, whether through allergy shots or drops, is the only treatment that has been shown to influence the underlying allergic disease—not just its symptoms. It drives toward immune modulation, where the immune system changes the way it responds to its environment. It is the only option for treating allergies rather than just putting a bandage on their symptoms.
A Better Way
With food allergies increasing at breakneck speed and pollen counts on a path to double between the year 2000 and 2040, pediatricians can expect to have far more patients in need of allergy treatment. If you are a pediatrician, contact us for information on addressing your patients’ allergies with our turnkey allergy treatment program. And if you are a parent, we can help you connect your pediatrician with our services so your child can benefit from sublingual immunotherapy.