RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And those of you out there who dread spring because of all the pollen in the air, listen up. There's a new approach to treating allergies, and NPR's Nancy Shute has details.
NANCY SHUTE, BYLINE: For years, Kathy Baker went to the doctor for shots every three weeks. It kept her hay fever under control. Then she started getting these welts on her arms.
KATHY BAKER: Lumpiness in my arms at the sites of the injections because I had been getting injections for so long.
SHUTE: She'd had it.
BAKER: I thought, this is ridiculous. We have to try something else.
SHUTE: Then she found a doctor who was using the same thing that's in the allergy shots but in a different way. She told Baker to put them in her mouth.
BAKER: You take one, two or three drops underneath your tongue. Hold it there for, you know, a minute, and then swallow it. And then you're good to go.
SHUTE: It's important to note that this liquid method has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. But the FDA has approved a similar approach, tablets you stick under your tongue. So far, the tablets are only for grass and ragweed allergy.
But the pills are also being tested at a treatment for asthma. A study published in JAMA found that taking tablets for dust mite allergen helped reduce the risk of an asthma attack. Robert Wood is head of allergy at Johns Hopkins Children's Center.
ROBERT WOOD: The impact that it had was not just reducing symptoms on kind of a day-to-day basis, but also the more significant symptoms that we refer to as an asthma exacerbation, the kind of thing that would lead you to come to the hospital for an emergency room visit or even a hospitalization.
SHUTE: Wood and other researchers are testing this kind of oral therapy for food allergies like peanut. Peanut allergy can be deadly, and there aren't any treatments for it. When researchers tried giving people shots for peanut allergies years ago, some people had dangerous reactions.
WOOD: It really told us right off the bat that we were not going to be able to inject people with food allergy to what they're allergic to.
SHUTE: So now they're trying three different ways to expose people to tiny bits of peanut.
WOOD: One of which is truly oral immunotherapy, where you're actually eating small and gradually increasing amounts of the food you are allergic to. The second is sublingual, where you are - again, it's being delivered in smaller amounts under the tongue. Then the third is using it delivered by a patch, where you're really wearing the food on your skin rather than taking it inside your body.
SHUTE: Tablets and patches to treat food allergies are not going to be available for a while because it will take years to test the treatments to make sure they're truly safe. But tablets for less serious allergies like hay fever may be on the market soon. Nancy Shute, NPR News.
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