Weighing the Costs of Allergy Treatment

Suffering from allergies can be miserable, but so can breaking the bank to fund allergy treatment.  Here are a few considerations to weigh when choosing an allergy treatment (for your or your kids) that is effective for your health and a good fit for your budget.

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Medications.  Common medications for allergies include antihistamines, decongestants, inhalers (for asthma), corticosteroids, nasal sprays, eye drops (for conjunctivitis), and topical creams (for eczema).  These medications may be a good choice if your allergies are confined to a short period of time such as a few weeks in summer or fall.  If they are longer in duration, though, medications can add up.  Also, certain prescription medications for ailments such as allergy-related asthma can be very expensive.

Subcutaneous immunotherapy (SCIT).  For patients who have allergies that last for more than a few months of the year or that are particularly severe would likely benefit from subcutaneous immunotherapy or allergy shots.  The big drawback to medications (as opposed to shots) is that they don’t change the underlying allergy—they just treat its symptoms.  Thus, allergies will likely return each allergy season, and you’ll be back on the same old medications.

With immunotherapy, though, you can change the immune system so that it becomes desensitized to allergens in the environment.  When the treatment takes effect, allergic reactions can decrease or cease altogether.   For this reason, allergy immunotherapy may be a better long-term investment for people who experience persistent allergy symptoms.

Many insurance companies will cover allergy shots, though there will often be a co-pay for the patient.  Bear in mind that most allergists recommend that patients come in for shots a couple times a week.  Thus, co-pays can add up in tandem with the non-reimbursable “hidden” costs of travel such as gasoline and time spent in driving to and from the doctor’s office and waiting for shots to be administered.

Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT).  An additional type of immunotherapy is available through sublingual (under-the-tongue) drops that are assimilated into the bloodstream through oral cells.  Many people prefer SLIT because it the allergy immunotherapy drops are less painful than shots.  SLIT is also safer than allergy shots, and for this reason, it can be administered at home.

The catch with sublingual immunotherapy is that some insurance companies may not cover.  (Most companies cover the testing and office visits, but some don’t cover the allergy drops themselves.) If you opt for SLIT but find that it is not included in your insurance benefits, your allergy doctor may offer a cash-pay discount.  In some cases, this may actually be comparable to the cost of allergy shots.  (Remember that travel costs and co-pays for allergy shots add up!)

Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT) tablets.  SLIT is also available through under-the-tongue tablets such as Ragwitek® which protect against ragweed and Oralair® which can help patients develop an immunity to several different types of grasses.  Check with your insurance to see if they cover the SLIT tablets, but be aware that these immunotherapy tablets are limited in the scope of allergens they cover.  Many people are allergic to a wide array of antigens including pet dander, trees, grasses, weeds, and dust.  Though the tablets can help with several common allergens, symptoms may continue if other allergens are not addressed through additional immunotherapy.

About The Author

Stuart H. Agren, M.D.

Stuart H. Agren, M.D. completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Utah and went on to earn his Doctor of Medicine from Tulane University School of Medicine in 1974. He completed additional training at L.D.S. Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah and then established his private medical practice starting in 1975. Dr. Agren completed a mini-residency in Industrial Medicine at the Robert Johnson School of Medicine at Rutgers University and also completed training to become a certified Medical Review Officer.

Dr. Agren was the Medical Director at TRW and McDonnell Douglas in Mesa, Arizona and at Stauffer Chemical and Kennecott Copper in Salt Lake City, Utah. He also served as an adjunct faculty member at Arizona State University.

In his private medical practice, Dr. Agren specialized in family practice and allergy. In his work as a private practice allergist, he was one of the first doctors in the country to prescribe sublingual immunotherapy to his patients as an alternative to subcutaneous immunotherapy (allergy shots). He has also been a trailblazer in the field of food allergy treatment and research, developing a program to treat multiple food allergies simultaneously using sublingual immunotherapy. Dr. Agren has been featured on local CBS, NBC, and ABC news affiliates and won the peer-nominated “Top Doc” award from Phoenix Magazine.

After 20 years in private practice, Dr. Agren became the Founder and President of AllergyEasy, which helps primary care physicians around the country offer allergy testing and sublingual immunotherapy treatment to their patients. Over 200 physicians in over 32 states use the AllergyEasy program to help their patients overcome environmental and food allergies and asthma.