Research on the topic was presented at an international consensus conference sponsored by the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
"The relationship between allergic hay fever and asthma has long been known, but this is the first large study to suggest that SIT not only rids patients of hay fever symptoms, but also may prevent them from developing the more serious disease of asthma," said Dr. Lars Jacobsen, director, medical communication and clinical relations, ALK-Abello Group, Hoersholm, Denmark. Approximately 20 percent of children who suffer from hay fever will develop asthma within a period of 8-10 years, according to Dr. Jacobsen.
"Despite new and potent drugs to treat asthma, the number of cases and the severity of the disease is growing," Dr. Jacobsen said. "The number of people who suffer from allergic hay fever is increasing, and this may explain, in part, the increase in asthma," he said.
Approximately 80 percent of all asthma in children and 50 percent of asthma in adults is caused by allergies.
The symptoms of respiratory allergies may include watery eyes, sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion and wheezing. Although the condition is commonly called hay fever, hay is seldom the culprit. More common allergens include dust, pet dander and plant pollens, such as ragweed.
In an ongoing, multi-center preventive allergy treatment study reported by Dr. Jacobsen, more than two hundred (208) children ages 6 to 14 with proven allergies to birch or grass pollen or both, were randomized to receive SIT, or treatment with standard medications that control the symptoms of allergies. After three years, significantly fewer children who received the allergy shots had developed asthma compared with children treated with standard medications. Those treated with SIT also experienced better control of their allergy symptoms.
"This is an important breakthrough in the fight against asthma, which affects approximately 17 million Americans, a third of whom are children, and causes 5,000 deaths annually," said Ira Finegold, M.D., chair of the immunotherapy conference and director, R.A. Cooke Institute of Allergy at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center, New York City. "SIT is the only treatment currently available that interferes with the basic physiological mechanism that causes allergies." Other studies have shown that the effects of SIT are long lasting and can prevent further allergic reactions, he said.
In SIT, small quantities of the substance to which an individual is allergic (an allergen) are injected at regular intervals over time in a treatment regimen commonly known as "allergy shots." When patients receive the shots, their bodies start to make antibodies that block the way the body reacts to the allergen, and allergy symptoms are minimized or even eliminated.
The ACAAI is a professional medical organization comprised of 4,000 qualified allergists-immunologists and related health care professionals. The College is dedicated to the clinical practice of allergy, asthma and immunology through education and research to promote the highest quality of patient care.
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