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Allergy sufferers look to needle-free treatment for symptoms

by Jane Derenowski and Linda Carroll /  / Updated 

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For the millions of Americans with allergies, a whiff of pollen, pet dander, dust or a host of other seemingly innocuous substances can kick off a reaction replete with sneezing, sniffling, and intense itching — or worse.

Many turn to regular allergy shots for relief, but soon there may be an alternative to getting a weekly or monthly jab with a needle.

An FDA advisory committee is considering whether to approve two respiratory allergy drugs that are already available in Europe. The new drugs will work in a similar way as allergy shots — building tolerance to allergens — but they’ll come in either a daily-dose pill or drop form. So, potentially, no more needles.

That sounds good to Luisa Angioletti, a 46-year-old mother from Closter, N.J., and her 7-year-old daughter, Kaz.

Both have severe reactions to ragweed, grass, tree pollen and animal dander. They get frequent shots to keep their allergies at bay.

Without the shots, “we have runny nose, puffy eyes, itchy throat, coughing — dry hacking cough,” Luisa said. “And sometimes hives.”

Though the shots have made both their lives better, it’s been tough on Kaz.

Because Luisa take the shots herself, she understands.

“It really burns and it hurts,” Luisa said. “It pains me to see her, you know, being shot because it’s not a pleasant experience. It’s never a pleasant experience.”

And that’s why the new medications are appealing.

Dr. David Skoner, an allergist with Allegheny Health Network in Pittsburgh, can see a real need for the new medications.

“The two big groups that I see that would really benefit from this therapy are very busy people that can’t fit a visit to the doctor’s office for a shot into their busy schedules and those who are needle-averse,” said Skoner, who is also a consultant for Merck, one of the companies that is awaiting FDA approval on an allergy pill.

Even if they get FDA approval, the new medications won’t be a panacea.

They only cover specific pollens. Shots can be tailored to individual patients and can contain every single substance you’re allergic to.

And there’s another possible downside.

“We always have to be extremely cautious when patients start taking medications at home since allergen immunotherapy runs the risk of adverse reactions,” Dr. Neeta Ogden told NBC News chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman.

The FDA advisory panel on Wednesday said the under-the-tongue drug Oralair, made by France's Stallergenes SA, is safe for anybody over the age of 10. On Thursday, the committee will discuss another immunotherapy drug, Grastek, made by Merck & Co. 

The FDA considers the recommendations of the advisory panel in deciding whether to approve a drug, but it is not obligated to follow them. 

Information from Reuters was included in this report.

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