Dr. Douglas Mack*
Allergist & Assistant Clinical Professor, McMaster University
You don’t have to suffer with allergies or the side effects of over-the-counter medications anymore. There are more options.
According to Statistics Canada, more than 25 percent of the Canadian population has allergies. They know the symptoms — runny nose, sneezing, and itching — all too well. Getting relief has been challenging for some, with the usual go-to treatments like over-the-counter drugs providing only partial relief or causing side effects like drowsiness. Fortunately, allergy sufferers now have other effective options available to them.
Dr. Douglas Mack, an allergist and Assistant Clinical Professor at McMaster University based in Hamilton, ON, has had many patients in his office whose lives have been disrupted by allergies. “An allergy is when the body’s own immune response recognizes something that’s completely harmless, like cat dander, pollen, or dust, and overreacts. It makes an immune mistake,” he explains. “When the body is exposed to that allergy, it sets off an immune response which causes a chemical release of histamine, and this chemical causes a lot of the symptoms.”
More treatment options for allergy patients
Testing (by scratch test or blood work) will pinpoint the allergen — an important first step to determining treatment. An allergist may suggest allergy immunotherapy, a targeted approach that addresses the root cause of an allergy, not just the symptoms. There are a couple of types available. Many people are familiar with allergy shots — injections done at a doctor’s office. It’s an effective option, but time-consuming since it requires regular in-person appointments. And some people, especially children, have anxiety around needles. There’s also a more recent, lesser-known second option for certain patients — sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) tablets. It’s a targeted approach for certain allergies that can retrain the body to tolerate the allergen better over time. Patients can take the tablet at home.
“The really cool thing is that this is a proactive approach to not only improve symptoms, but also to change the course of the disease,” says Dr. Mack. “For many patients, immunotherapy improves symptoms to the point where they can eventually stop the immunotherapy and they may get a long-term response post-treatment.”
Tablets are formulated to tackle specific allergies, like grass and tree pollen. Erika Cantin’s daughter, Amelia, had severe symptoms because of an allergy to grass. From April to August, the six-year-old suffered with puffy eyes and congestion. “It was like she had a cold all the time,” says Erika. “She was lethargic and in a chronic state of sickness. As a parent, it was difficult to see her like that.”
“The really cool thing is that this is a proactive approach to not only improve symptoms, but also to change the course of the disease.”
Improved symptoms with immunotherapy
Amelia’s allergist, Dr. Mack, suggested sublingual immunotherapy. Amelia saw significant improvement in her symptoms in the first year and more in the second. “Amelia is very happy with it,” says Erika. Dr. Mack has witnessed first-hand the positive impact sublingual immunotherapy has had on his patients. Finding out more about the best treatment option for you starts with your family physician and a referral to an allergy specialist. “We can recommend a treatment plan for you,” says Dr. Mack.
*Dr. Mack is a paid consultant of ALK-Abello Pharmaceuticals Inc., the research-based pharmaceutical company supporting this article.