FDA approves pill that could replace allergy shots

Spring is in the air and the means sniffling, sneezing and watery eyes for many.

While most of us welcome warm temperatures, for allergy sufferers it send their symptoms into overdrive.

Unfortunately, our harsh Michiana winter means this could be our worst allergy season on record said Dr. James Harris, an immunologist at the South Bend Clinic.

But help in the form of a pill could be on the way for those who suffer from grass pollen allergies and it would come in the form of a pill.

Alexus Rivers, 17, of Mishawaka is rolling up her sleeve at the clinic for a weekly allergy shot that has become a part of life for the Mishawaka High School junior.

She says she's dealt with indoor and outdoor allergies all her life saying, "It gets really hard to breathe and usually your throat closes up and you itch everywhere."

In May, a recently FDA approved drug, called Oralair, might replace allergy shots for a lot of people and Dr. Harris says this new form of immunotherapy will be a game changer. "It's the first significant development in allergy treatment in 100 years. We've been giving allergy shots just like we always have, for the last 100 years or more, and now we're offering a new oral therapy for those who have allergies."

TheSouth Bend Clinic was part of the nationwide study that tested Oralair on patients. Harris explains how it was done.

"The study was done in the course over an entire year. They started this therapy, giving the treatment in advance of the allergy season, and then we saw how they responded during the grass season and the results were very impressive." Harris said.

While this particular treatment was tested on those allergic to grass pollens, Dr. Harris says immunotherapy, once a day at home in pill form, is a major breakthrough and will undoubtedly help other allergy sufferers like those suffering from food or pet allergies down the road.

Alexus will continue taking shots because she has multiple allergies but she says she looks forward to that day, even if for others. " I would like that better because that means you could just take a pill at home and not miss school and have to come here and then go back."

And Dr. Harris says his patients who were part of the testing and are candidates are excited. "We're excited to be able to offer this to patients because it's really a great way to treat a problem that's been untreatable before, except with allergy shots."

Dr. Harris says for those with multiple allergies, like Alexus, shots may still be the best thing, but for those suffering from grass pollen allergies, they're excited to be ble to offer a pill that can be popped at home. And he adds, " We know that it works."

Nothing to sneeze at for millions of sufferers.

Oralair will be available to those suffering from grass pollen next month; although, because patients need to start the pill four months before allergy season, sufferers won't get it in time to ward off early summer symptoms this year.

Harris is hopeful that Oralair will soon be available for ragweed sufferers and that down the road those with food allergies might also benefit from a pill rather than shots.

Some may still be able to take advantage of the treatment yet this year. Here is his contact information:

James Harris, M.D.
Allergy & Immunology
South Bend Clinic
South Bend or Elkhart Appointment Phone:
(574) 237-9217

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