SUBLINGUAL IMMUNOTHERAPY: The New Frontier in Allergy Treatment
By Debra Gambrell DO - Allergy Specialist
If you have been to any of my lectures you will have heard me say, “One out of two children has one out of 20 chronic diseases, from asthma, ADHD, and food sensitivities to autism and seizure disorders.” This current generation of children are in toxic overload from the food they eat, the water they drink, and the air they breathe. So many very knowledgeable parents come to me having tried everything to get their child’s immune system to a state where it is properly responding, not over or under-reacting to everyday things in their environment
For the past two years I have been treating immune system dysfunctions in children. I am a pediatric specialist and have extensive training in care of the child throughout their growth and development. Many times I have been asked to care for the parents of the child, but my heart and soul are invested in helping children experience healthy growth and development. There are many amazing practitioners who treat adults in Sonoma County - I have always been committed to be here exclusively for the children, especially those who have failed traditional and alternative therapy elsewhere.
In my search for the absolute best way to treat environmental allergies and food sensitivities, I ran across a young adult who is the son of a surgeon-friend of mine here in Santa Rosa. This young man suffered for years with severe asthma, heavily dependent on his inhaler and frequent steroid use. During his childhood, his physician father looked everywhere for answers, from California to the east coast. He did all of the standard blood and skin testing and even tried allergy shots for a year. Every other week, this child received painful injections but never seemed to make any great improvement. Until the dad found Mary Morris at Allergy Associates in Onalaska, Wisconsin.
After thirty days of sublingual drops, this boy could breathe again! He could once again enjoy life outside without the fear of losing his breath. His treatment took two years to finish, but about halfway through his treatment, he did not need ANY inhalers or steroids! You can imagine how thrilled he and his father were. He got his life back.
After hearing his amazing story, I took a plane out to Minnesota and then drove over two hours to the little town of Onalaska to meet with Mary and her team. I spent a day and a half in their clinic learning about their system and how I could bring this technology back to the children in Santa Rosa. One of the things that impressed me the most was this center has treated over 190,000 patients WITHOUT ANY INJURY. The alternative to sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) is allergy shots. There have been many injuries and even some deaths directly related to injection therapy. I knew instantly that treating the allergies with SLIT was a no-brainer in terms of safety. But did it work?
Mary showed me study after study of the efficacy of the SLIT treatment. She showed me this study (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23532243) from a 2013 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which showed:
“The overall evidence provides a moderate grade level of evidence to support the effectiveness of sublingual immunotherapy for the treatment of allergic rhinitis and asthma.”
And this study (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23650298) from a 2013 study in Pediatrics, which showed:
“Strength of evidence is high that SLIT improves asthma symptoms and moderate that SLIT improves rhinitis and conjunctivitis symptoms and decreases medication usage.”
And this study (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27471689) from a 2013 study in Immunotargets Therapy, which showed:
“If a patient fails allergen avoidance and medical therapy, immunotherapy may be indicated. Furthermore, immunotherapy is the only therapy that may change the course of the disease and induce long-term remission.”
Needless to say, I was convinced. Having studied the pediatric immune system extensively in these past few years, I can say with confidence that this treatment should be the standard of care for pediatric patients. It provides the opportunity for true healing AND has an incredible safety profile. The important piece of this treatment is that is “Stops the Allergic March,” as Mary says. She would know. She grew up in her father’s allergy clinic, starting “work” at age 11. She has seen case after case of children’s asthma, GERD, and food sensitivities stop the normally expected progression and actually REVERSE. Like I said, this center (her and her father, who is now deceased) have treated over 190,000 patients!
In addition to safety and efficacy, this therapy is done mostly at home. Instead of having the child come into the office for painful (and expensive) bimonthly or monthly injections, the drops are taken daily at home. There is an initial consultation where I look at the child’s immune system in depth, as well as their growth and development, and together you and I decide what to test. Looking into what plants and trees actually grow in our area, I have put together a panel specific to this area to make the testing more cost effective. We will go over and select any foods that may be further triggering the immune response. After this initial blood test (I am also a pediatric anesthesiologist and have worked with the TINIEST of veins and have personally trained my staff to PAINLESSLY obtain the blood sample), the sample is sent to Wisconsin for testing. After the results are obtained, a custom blend of allergy drops are created for your child. Within two weeks, we give the first dose in the office as a precautionary measure. After that, the therapy continues at home.
The total duration of treatment is between two and five years, but most patients start to have relief within 30 days! In fact, the hardest part about this therapy is sticking to it because the child starts to feel better so quickly. There are check-in appointments every three to six months (more commonly every six months) for a repeat blood test. Since this therapy combines the problem (the allergen) with the solution (the instructions for the immune system), the drops need to be recalibrated about twice a year as the immune system gets “smarter.”
Fast forward a few years and my friend’s son moved to Maui to start a real estate business. He really enjoyed the island and became an avid surfer. Unfortunately, he moved into a rental that had hidden black mold. His asthma quickly returned. But this time, instead of suffering, he called Mary and was retested and the source of his asthma was again found and treated. He is a few months into this current treatment and is already back to his drug-free life. I am so grateful I was able to meet and learn from Mary and her amazing team at Allergy Associates!
To find out more, make an appointment with me by calling 707-292-8882 and ask for a pediatric-specific SLIT consultation. I look forward to bringing my pediatric immune system expertise to help your child live allergy free and truly thrive.
Dr. Debra Gambrell, D.O.
Naturopathic health care with compassionate integrative doctors who understand your unique medical needs.