Allergy injections, a long used treatment for allergy and asthma sufferers are getting a “shot in the arm” from recent research. For over a century, we have known allergy immunotherapy (AIT) is highly effective and improves quality of life. This recent research brings immunotherapy to the forefront of patient-centered, cost-effective care and furthers our understanding of the immune system.

Research:

Allergy immunotherapy is the only allergy treatment available that actually changes the immune system, making it possible to prevent development of new allergies and asthma. According to this recent research, allergy immunotherapy also significantly reduces healthcare use and cost for prescription medications, outpatient visits and hospitalizations. Seven million patients in the U.S., children and adults with allergies were enrolled in this research from 1997 – 2008. Allergic patients receiving allergy shots were compared with similar patients who did not receive this treatment.

Results:

Adults and children combined showed that AIT-treated patients incurred 38% lower average total 18-month health care costs ($6,637 versus $10,664), as well as significantly lower costs for hospitalization (41% lower), outpatient (57% lower), and pharmacy services (18% lower), than patients who did not receive allergy immunotherapy. Average cost savings per patient were $4,397 (30%) for adults and $3,965 (42%) for children.

Conclusions:

Allergic rhinitis (allergies that affect the nose, eyes, throat and sinuses) affect approximately 1 in 5 Americans, and is associated with substantial clinical and economic burden.  Allergy sufferers can experience disturbed sleep, decreased energy, poor performance at school and work, and millions of lost work and school days annually.  In 2005, the estimated total direct U.S. cost of allergic rhinitis exceeded $11 billion. Prescription medications accounted for more than half of these costs, although over the counter allergy medications were not included in this cost assessment.

How does the allergy sufferer begin treatment? The first step for the health care provider is the review of the patient’s history followed by allergy testing for common, specific allergens such as house dust mites, grass, tree, weed pollen, animal dander and mold spores.  Once the specific allergen is identified the health care provider should provide education regarding the most efficient methods for avoiding environmental triggers.  Allergy injections made up of allergens that the patient demonstrated as positive on skin testing will be started first at low dosages gradually increasing as the patient tolerates. Allergy medications may also be used until the allergy injections are increased to a maintenance dosage.

Allergy immunotherapy is the only preventive allergy treatment that changes the immune system preventing the progression of new allergies and the allergic progression from allergic rhinitis to asthma.

Allergy immunotherapy is a well-established, safe and effective treatment. This recent research clearly shows that allergy immunotherapy is cost effective and these cost benefits occur within a short period of time. Allergies and asthma are serious, high cost, debilitating, chronic illnesses that can be treated and controlled with patient-centered allergy and asthma care.

Reference: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, www.aaaai.org Allergen-specific Immunotherapy decreases medical costs in allergic children and adults, Hankin, Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology