Some allergy sufferers turning to drops instead of shots for relief

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It's a bad time of year for allergy sufferers. Tree pollen and mold are causing lots of symptoms. Some people are treating their allergies with drops under the tongue instead of shots.

It's a long list for Paul Winkeler.

"Cat, dog, anything with hair, anything green, pollen, ragweed, mildew," Winkeler said.

He said as a kid, he had to come out of baseball games when his eyes swelled shut. He had allergy shots on and off over many years. That involves skin testing to see what triggers reactions. Then you get small amounts of those substances in the shots. The doses are increased over time, so the body gets used to the allergens and symptoms diminish.

Winkeler said shots helped, but spring and fall were still pretty rough.

"It was also difficult trying to take the time to go get the shots once a week in my crazy schedule as a teacher," he said.

The science teacher's doctor presented an option.

"I was skeptical at first," he said.

Winkeler decided to try oral immunotherapy. Drops are placed under the tongue. He does it himself three times a week.

Dr. Kate Aberle, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Shawnee Mission Medical Center said you can put the same allergens into drops that are in shots.

"The studies have shown that the efficacy is the same at the 80 to 90 percent success rate no matter which way you go -- whether it's the drops or the shots,"  Dr. Aberle said.

But an allergist at Children's Mercy Hospital isn't sold on the drops.

"I would question whether the doses they are using are adequate enough to actually create the immunological change they're hoping for. Because they're letting patients do it at home, they're starting with very, very low doses, much lower than what we use for injection," Dr. Chitra Dinakar said.

The drops are not FDA-approved yet for efficacy or safety. Dr. Aberle said studies show bad reactions are very rare, but she still has patients carry an epinephrine pen.

"So worst case scenario, if they do have a sign of that serious reaction, they know what to do when that happens," she said.

Winkeler said he's had no problems over the three years he's been on the drops, and they have helped.

"This doesn't cure it, but it allows me to function on a daily basis," he said.

Since the drops are not FDA-approved, insurers don't cover them. Winkeler pays $75 for his two-month supply.

A different type of oral immunotherapy, a tablet that dissolves under the tongue, is FDA-approved. But the tablets are only for ragweed or grass allergies and many people have multiple allergies.

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