Are Allergy Drops Safer Than Shots? A Comprehensive Guide

Manoukian, MD, FAAAI, FACAAI
February 25, 2024
June 20, 2024

Allergies affect millions of people worldwide, causing discomfort and impacting daily lives. For many, allergy immunotherapy is a game-changer, offering a long-term solution rather than temporary relief. Traditionally, allergy shots have been the go-to treatment. However, allergy drops, also known as sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT), are gaining popularity. But the question remains: Are allergy drops safer than shots? In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the differences, benefits, and safety of these treatments, helping you make an informed decision.

Understanding Allergy Immunotherapy

Allergy immunotherapy works by gradually desensitizing the immune system to allergens. This treatment reduces symptoms and provides long-term relief by exposing the body to small, controlled amounts of allergens. The two main forms of immunotherapy are allergy shots (subcutaneous immunotherapy or SCIT) and allergy drops (sublingual immunotherapy or SLIT).

Allergy Shots: The Traditional Approach

What Are Allergy Shots?

Allergy shots involve injecting small amounts of allergens into the body, usually in the upper arm. These injections are given in increasing doses over time, allowing the immune system to build tolerance to the allergens.

Pros of Allergy Shots

1. Effectiveness: Allergy shots have been used for decades and are proven to be highly effective in reducing allergy symptoms.

2. Wide Range of Allergens: They can treat a broad range of allergens, including pollen, mold, dust mites, and pet dander.

3. Long-Term Relief: Many patients experience significant relief even after stopping the treatment.

Cons of Allergy Shots

1. Time-Consuming: Treatment requires frequent visits to the doctor, especially during the buildup phase.

2. Injections: Some patients may find the injections uncomfortable or painful.

3. Risk of Reactions: There is a small risk of severe allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis, which requires immediate medical attention.

Allergy Drops: The Modern Alternative

What Are Allergy Drops?

Allergy drops, or sublingual immunotherapy, involve placing drops containing allergens under the tongue. These drops are typically taken daily at home, making the treatment more convenient.

Pros of Allergy Drops

1. Convenience: Allergy drops can be taken at home, reducing the need for frequent doctor visits.

2. Non-Invasive: No needles are involved, making it a pain-free alternative.

3. Lower Risk of Severe Reactions: The risk of severe allergic reactions is generally lower with allergy drops compared to shots.

Cons of Allergy Drops

1. Limited Range of Allergens: Currently, allergy drops are FDA-approved for only a few allergens, such as grass and ragweed pollen.

2. Consistency Required: Patients need to be consistent with daily administration for the treatment to be effective.

3. Long-Term Commitment: Similar to shots, drops require a long-term commitment to see significant results.

Safety Comparison: Allergy Drops vs. Shots

Effectiveness and Safety

Both allergy shots and drops are effective, but the safety profile can differ.

Allergy Shots:

Risk of Anaphylaxis: Shots carry a higher risk of anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction. This risk necessitates administration in a medical setting where emergency treatment is available.

Side Effects: Common side effects include redness, swelling at the injection site, and mild allergic reactions.

Allergy Drops:

Lower Risk of Anaphylaxis: Drops have a much lower risk of severe reactions, making them safer for home use.

Side Effects: Possible side effects include itching or swelling in the mouth, which are generally mild and temporary.

Who Should Consider Allergy Drops?

Allergy drops may be particularly suitable for:

1. Children: Many children prefer drops over shots due to the non-invasive nature.

2. Busy Adults: Those with hectic schedules who find it difficult to visit the doctor frequently.

3. Needle Phobia: Individuals who are uncomfortable with injections.

Making the Decision: Which Is Right for You?

When deciding between allergy shots and drops, consider the following factors:

1. Convenience: Are you able to commit to regular doctor visits, or would you prefer the convenience of home administration?

2. Allergens: Are your allergies to substances that can be treated with drops?

3. Medical History: Do you have a history of severe allergic reactions that might make shots more risky?

Consulting with an allergy specialist is crucial. They can help you weigh the pros and cons based on your specific allergies, medical history, and lifestyle.

Book an Appointment with HeyAllergy

If you’re struggling with allergies and considering immunotherapy, HeyAllergy offers personalized telemedicine consultations. Our specialists can guide you through the options of allergy shots and drops, helping you choose the safest and most effective treatment. Book an appointment with HeyAllergy today and take the first step towards a life with fewer allergy symptoms.

FAQ About the Safety of Allergy Drops vs. Shots

Are allergy drops really safer than allergy shots? Yes, allergy drops are generally considered safer than allergy shots due to the lower risk of severe allergic reactions, such as anaphylaxis. The sublingual administration of drops directly under the tongue offers a more gradual exposure to allergens, contributing to this safety profile.

Can children safely use allergy drops? Allergy drops are deemed safe and effective for children. Their non-invasive nature and reduced risk of severe reactions make them a preferred option for pediatric allergy treatment.

What are the most common side effects of allergy drops? The most common side effects of allergy drops include mild oral irritation, such as itching or a slight burning sensation under the tongue, and occasionally gastrointestinal discomfort. These symptoms typically diminish with continued use.

Is medical supervision required when taking allergy drops? Unlike allergy shots, which require administration in a healthcare setting, allergy drops can safely be taken at home without direct medical supervision. However, regular follow-ups with an allergist are essential to monitor progress and adjust the treatment as needed.

How do allergy drops and shots compare in terms of long-term safety? Both allergy drops and shots have shown to be safe for long-term use when administered according to medical guidelines. Allergy drops, however, offer the added advantage of a lower risk of anaphylaxis and other severe reactions, making them a safer option for many patients over the long term.

What should I do if I experience a severe reaction to allergy drops? Severe reactions to allergy drops are rare, but if you experience symptoms like difficulty breathing, swelling, or severe itching, seek medical attention immediately. Always discuss any adverse reactions with your allergist to adjust your treatment plan.

Can allergy drops be used to treat all the same allergens as shots? Allergy drops are effective against a wide range of allergens, including pollen, dust mites, pet dander, and more. While they cover many of the same allergens as shots, the best treatment option depends on the individual's specific allergy profile and medical history.