Two new grass allergy tablets, one available in Canada and one soon to become available in the United States, show promise as alternatives for the traditional and time-consuming course of allergy shots. These tablets are taken once a day, under the tongue where they dissolve and take effect.
One of the tablets, known as Oralair, recently became available by prescription in Canada, but not the United States. This pill has proven effective in international studies, and is now approved by Health Canada.
Another tablet, known as Grazax in Europe, has been submitted to the FDA in the United States for final approval. Unfortunately, the tablet (which will have a different brand name in the U.S.) most likely won’t become available until next year’s grass season at the earliest.
When it comes to grass allergy, taking antihistamines does the job for some people. But allergists have traditionally steered those with more severe symptoms and asthma toward immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots. The tablets are a new form of this therapy – called sublingual immunotherapy, or SLIT, because the dose is taken under the tongue.
Although it’s recommended to begin taking these tablets four months before allergy season begins, they have been known to show significant improvement after being taken for as little as one month. This is far less invasive and time-consuming than traditional immunotherapy: instead of visiting an allergist several times to get your shots, you can simply place a tablet under your tongue and allow it to dissolve.
Sublingual immunotherapy is actually not so new. For years now, researchers have been studying it, not just for grass allergy but potentially for food allergy as well. It works with the same principle as traditional allergy shots: introduce tiny amounts of the specific allergen into the patient’s system (in this case, via drops), with the goal of building toward tolerance.