How Do Allergy Drops Work? Sublingual Immunotherapy Science

Manoukian, MD, FAAAI, FACAAI
February 25, 2024
June 10, 2024

Allergies can be a persistent and troubling part of life for many individuals. From seasonal hay fever to pet dander sensitivities, allergies affect millions of people worldwide, impacting their quality of life. While traditional treatments like antihistamines and nasal sprays provide temporary relief, they don’t address the root cause of allergies. This is where allergy drops, specifically sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT), come into play. But how do allergy drops work, and what is the science behind sublingual immunotherapy? Let’s delve into the fascinating world of allergy drops and explore how they offer a promising solution for long-term allergy relief.

Understanding Allergies: The Immune System’s Overreaction

Before we dive into how allergy drops work, it’s essential to understand what allergies are. Allergies are the result of the immune system overreacting to harmless substances, known as allergens. Common allergens include pollen, dust mites, mold, animal dander, and certain foods. When someone with allergies encounters an allergen, their immune system mistakenly identifies it as a threat and releases chemicals, such as histamine, to fight it off. This reaction causes symptoms like sneezing, itching, runny nose, and watery eyes.

Traditional Allergy Treatments: Temporary Relief

Traditional allergy treatments focus on managing symptoms rather than addressing the underlying cause. Over-the-counter and prescription medications like antihistamines, decongestants, and corticosteroids can help alleviate symptoms, but they often come with side effects and do not provide a long-term solution. Immunotherapy, on the other hand, aims to desensitize the immune system to allergens, offering a more permanent form of relief.

What is Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT)?

Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) is a type of allergy treatment that involves administering small doses of allergens under the tongue. Unlike traditional allergy shots (subcutaneous immunotherapy), which require injections, SLIT uses allergy drops or tablets that dissolve under the tongue. This method is not only more convenient but also safer, as it can be done at home without the need for frequent doctor visits.

How Do Allergy Drops Work?

1. Allergen Exposure

The first step in SLIT involves exposing the patient to small, controlled doses of the allergen. These doses are usually in the form of drops or tablets placed under the tongue. The sublingual area, rich in immune cells, allows the allergens to be absorbed directly into the bloodstream.

2. Immune System Desensitization

Over time, the immune system becomes accustomed to the presence of the allergen and begins to build tolerance. This process is known as desensitization. By gradually increasing the dose of the allergen, the immune system learns to recognize it as a harmless substance, reducing the severity of allergic reactions.

3. Long-Term Relief

As the immune system becomes desensitized, patients experience fewer and less severe allergic reactions. This long-term relief can last even after the treatment is discontinued, providing a more permanent solution to allergies compared to traditional medications.

The Science Behind Sublingual Immunotherapy

Immune Modulation

The primary goal of SLIT is to modulate the immune system’s response to allergens. When allergens are introduced under the tongue, they are processed by dendritic cells, which play a crucial role in the immune system. These cells help to present the allergen to T-cells, leading to the production of regulatory T-cells (Tregs). Tregs help suppress the allergic response and promote tolerance to the allergen.

Allergen-Specific IgG4 Production

Another significant aspect of SLIT is the production of allergen-specific immunoglobulin G4 (IgG4) antibodies. IgG4 antibodies act as blocking antibodies, preventing allergens from binding to immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies on mast cells and basophils. This prevents the release of histamine and other inflammatory mediators, reducing allergic symptoms.

Benefits of Sublingual Immunotherapy

Non-Invasive and Convenient

One of the main advantages of SLIT is that it is non-invasive and can be administered at home. This convenience makes it an attractive option for patients, especially children and those who are needle-phobic.

Fewer Side Effects

SLIT has a lower risk of systemic allergic reactions compared to allergy shots. Most side effects are mild and localized, such as itching or swelling under the tongue, and they usually resolve quickly.

Suitable for Multiple Allergies

SLIT can be customized to treat multiple allergies simultaneously. This is particularly beneficial for patients with polysensitization, where they are allergic to multiple allergens.

Effectiveness of Sublingual Immunotherapy

Numerous studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of SLIT in reducing allergy symptoms and improving the quality of life for patients. Research shows that SLIT is effective in treating allergic rhinitis, allergic asthma, and certain food allergies. Long-term follow-ups indicate that the benefits of SLIT can persist for years after treatment has ended.

The Future of Allergy Treatment

The field of allergy treatment is continually evolving, with ongoing research aimed at improving the efficacy and safety of SLIT. Advances in biotechnology and a better understanding of the immune system are paving the way for new and innovative treatments. Personalized immunotherapy, where treatments are tailored to an individual’s specific allergies and immune response, holds great promise for the future.

Conclusion: A Life Free from Allergies

Allergy drops, through the science of sublingual immunotherapy, offer a revolutionary approach to treating allergies. By desensitizing the immune system to allergens, SLIT provides long-term relief and improves the quality of life for allergy sufferers. If you’re tired of relying on temporary solutions and want to address the root cause of your allergies, it may be time to consider sublingual immunotherapy.

Book an appointment with HeyAllergy today to explore how allergy drops can help you achieve lasting relief from your allergies. Our online telemedicine service makes it easy and convenient to get the care you need from the comfort of your home. Don’t let allergies control your life—take the first step towards a healthier, allergy-free future with HeyAllergy.

FAQ About How Allergy Drops Work

How exactly do allergy drops help in treating allergies? Allergy drops work by gradually exposing your immune system to small doses of allergens. This exposure helps your body build tolerance over time, reducing the severity and frequency of allergic reactions.

What is the difference in the immune response between allergy drops and allergy shots? Allergy drops and shots both aim to desensitize the immune system to allergens. The key difference lies in their administration method - drops are sublingual and interact directly with the immune system in the mouth, while shots are injected and absorbed into the bloodstream.

Are allergy drops safe for long-term use? Yes, allergy drops are considered safe for long-term use. They are a gradual treatment method aiming to build lasting tolerance to allergens.

How long does it take for allergy drops to start working? The effectiveness timeline can vary, but patients often start noticing a reduction in allergy symptoms within a few months. Full benefits are usually observed after a year or more of consistent treatment.

Can allergy drops lead to a permanent cure for allergies? While allergy drops can significantly reduce symptoms and improve tolerance to allergens, they are not typically considered a permanent cure. Many patients experience long-term relief, but this can vary.

Do allergy drops work for all types of allergies? Allergy drops have been effective for a variety of allergens, including pollen, dust mites, and pet dander. However, their effectiveness can vary depending on the individual and the specific allergen.

Is it necessary to continue allergy drops indefinitely? The duration of allergy drop treatment varies, but it is typically a long-term commitment, often lasting several years. The exact length of treatment will depend on your response and the advice of your allergist.