It used to be that if you had pollen allergies, shots were the only form of immunotherapy. That meant a lot of time driving to the doctor’s office for injections. If you had food allergies, you were just plain out of luck. Since shots aren’t effective for food allergies, the only option was to simply avoid trigger foods.
But Family Allergy Clinic’s Dr. Stuart Agren is changing that.
His treatment, known as sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT), works much like allergy shots but can be dosed under the tongue as drops. Since SLIT is safer than shots, it can be taken at home—and it works for food allergies, too.
SLIT has been widely used in Europe since the mid-1980s for pollen allergies, and Dr. Agren was one of the first physicians in the U.S. to prescribe the treatment.
“I saw a lot of drawbacks to shots. They took longer to work, and patients would often get discouraged and stop taking them prematurely,” says Dr. Agren. “I knew there had to be a better way.”
Thirty years later, Dr. Agren has helped over 15,000 patients successfully overcome their allergies through SLIT. He has also extended that treatment to food allergy sufferers as one of the few doctors in the country currently treating allergies to wheat, milk, eggs, corn, tree nuts, fruits, vegetables and dozens of other common allergens.
“The general thought with food allergies has been that you just have to live with them, but sublingual immunotherapy is changing the landscape,” says Agren.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children have increased by 50 percent since 1997 and now affect an average of two children per classroom.
Given that increase, Dr. Agren says that an effective treatment is long overdue—particularly for people who suffer with multiple food allergies.
“I see a lot of patients who are allergic to dairy and wheat simultaneously or to multiple fruits and vegetables,” says Dr. Agren. “It becomes hard to maintain a healthy diet when you have to eliminate so many foods.”
Dr. Agren says that another perk of SLIT is that it works better for younger children than shots do. Additionally, unlike allergy medications such as pills and inhalers, SLIT fixes the underlying allergy instead of just its symptoms.
“A lot of people slog through allergy season with a heavy arsenal of antihistamines and other prescription medications, but those don’t change the allergic disease. Once you stop the medications, the symptoms return,” says Agren.
Dr. Agren also says that SLIT is easier on the body.
“Medications have synthetic chemicals and side effects, but the allergy drops are a natural solution.”
Stuart H. Agren, M.D. opened the Family Allergy Clinic in the East Valley in 1985. He has served as an adjunct faculty member at Arizona State University and was recently chosen by peers as a Phoenix Magazine “Top Doc.” His offices can be reached at (480) 827-9945, www.FamilyAllergyClinic.com.