Angela Zimmerly suffered with year-round allergies for years. She tried allergy shots, but the inconvenience of taking time off work to drive to her doctor’s office twice a week became too much.

A needle-free way to fight allergies

Dr. Joshua Hentzelman, SLUCare otolaryngologist (ENT), with a patient. Photo provided by SLUCare

She ended up stopping the treatment and enduring constant allergy symptoms.

“Grasses, pollens, mold, leaves, trees, dust, mites — I’m basically allergic to all of it,” she said. “I was always blowing my nose, always coughing. I couldn’t get a good night’s sleep. It got to the point where I was so exhausted all the time and I had sinus infection after sinus infection.”

That’s when she learned there was an easier way to get relief: sublingual allergy drops — a liquid alternative to injections. Now, she simply places six drops of a custom-blended allergen mixture under her tongue each morning.

The needle-free option has been a lifesaver, Zimmerly says. “My quality of life has changed drastically. I’m able to breathe and get a really good night’s sleep so I have more energy and more focus. It’s been fantastic for me.”

Like Zimmerly, millions of Americans experience allergy symptoms such as itchy eyes, sneezing and runny noses. Over-the-counter medications work for many, but for others who suffer with allergies more than two seasons a year, it makes sense to try another line of attack, says Dr. Joshua Hentzelman, a SLUCare otolaryngologist (ENT) who sees patients at the Doctors Office Building near SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital and at SLUCare Otolaryngology West County at 555 N. New Ballas Road.

An at-home treatment option

Like shots, allergy drops work to desensitize a patient to the specific allergens that cause them trouble and help them build immunity over time. And the best part is the drops can be administered at home.

“It’s so easy,” Zimmerly says. “It doesn’t taste bad. It tastes lightly sweet. I hold three drops under my tongue for one minute, take a small sip of water, and then take the second set. Then I’m off starting my day.”

Though her insurance provider doesn’t cover the cost, Zimmerly says the convenience of drops makes the price tag well worth it.

Dr. Hentzelman says the cost for most of his patients works out to be about $100 a month over the course of treatment, which typically lasts three to five years.

“If you look at the overall burden of the problem and what people are spending on other medicines, this [treatment] can be cost-effective,” he said.

As with allergy shots, patients undergo allergy testing in the clinic first. “We tailor the treatment to the person so they’re getting the best response,” Dr. Hentzelman says. For instance, if a patient has reactions to ragweed, mold and cat dander, allergy shots or drops will be custom blended for those specific allergens.

The possibility of an adverse reaction to the allergens is lower in drops than in shots, Dr. Hentzelman says. Still, the first couple of doses are administered in the office so that patients can be monitored.

Zimmerly still goes in for her annual checkup, but throughout the remainder of the year, the SLUCare staff mails the drops directly to her, adjusting the mixture as the seasons change for optimal coverage.

For more information about Dr. Hentzelman and other SLUCare ear, nose and throat specialists treating allergies, go to slucare.edu/ent-allergy.