If you’re one of the 90 percent of Americans who say they’d be willing to try a way to safely treat the actual cause of their allergies rather than rely on meds that simply mask allergy symptoms, this might be your lucky day. In April 2014, the Food and Drug Administration approved Oralair, the first oral treatment to help desensitize the body to allergy-inducing grass pollens.
Unlike antihistamines that just mask your discomfort and often leave you feeling foggy-headed, Oralair is an allergenic extract that actually reduces your body’s sensitivity to grass pollen over time. The treatment, called immunotherapy, works sort of like a vaccine: By exposing your immune system to gradually increasing doses of the allergen, your body develops a higher exposure tolerance—meaning it takes more pollen to cause an allergic reaction, explains Julie Kuriakose, M.D., medical director of Adult and Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at Hudson Allergy in New York.
Over the course of a few years, that could mean enjoying warm weather free of sneezing, congestion and itchy, watery eyes.
Immunotherapy isn’t new, though. Injectable allergenic extracts have been available from allergists for years, but having regular injections for three to five years is kind of awful. Since Oralair dissolves under the tongue, the needle poking might be a thing of the past.
But as with most this-is-the-best-news-ever news, there’s a catch: Oralair only treats grass pollen, so it might not prove helpful if you’re also allergic to other seasonal offenders, such as ragweed or tree pollen. “It can work for a subset of patients who only have summertime allergies or allergies to grass,” Dr. Kuriakose says. Still, we say, that’s nothing to sneeze at.