New Under-The-Tongue Allergy Pills Approved ; Too Late To Help With The Spring ‘Pollen Vortex’

New allergy pills, designed to be taken under the tongue, have been approved by the FDA. Grastek is the second of its kind to be approved this month. It is the first of three allergy pills that are taken under the tongue that Merck plans to market, according to MedPage Today. Once placed under the tongue, the allergy pills dissolves. Very small doses of timothy grass extract are in each allergy pill. The small doses are intended to “wean a person’s allergies out of severity.” Grastek only contains the extract of timothy grass pollen, but the grass pollen is cross reactive, so Merck says that it can help prevent allergic reactions to other allergens as well, including Kentucky blue, orchard, perennial rye, red top and sweet vernal.

The allergy pills taken under the tongue are referred to as “sublingual oral immunotherapy (SLIT).” Until these approvals, subcutaneous injections (allergy shots) were the only FDA approved immunotherapy tool. Remedies made from the extracts in the allergy shots have been widely used via under-the-tongue administration, but this use was not previously approved by the FDA. According to Medical Daily, late-stage trials showed Grastek could reduce allergy symptoms in sufferers by almost 20 percent. Many allergy sufferers supplement with vitamin C or other herbal remedies, but the research on these treatments can be contradictory.

For Grastek to work, the therapy must begin at least three months before the season begins. Merck plans to start marketing the new under-the-tongue allergy pills with its partner at the end of this month. Unfortunately, this release will be too late to help prevent symptoms in allergy suffers in time for what is being called “The Pollen Vortex.” The Pollen Vortex is the spring-time counterpart to the Polar Vortex that rocked much of the US this winter. “This is truly the gift that keeps giving,” ABC News medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton said of the odd weather patterns. “Instead of a gradually blooming of everything we normally see on the windshield of our car, it’s all happening at once really setting up a perfect storm for allergy sufferers.”

Greer announced its FDA approval of its sublingual allergy pill earlier this month. Oralair was the first under-the-tongue allergy pill approved in the United States. “While there is no cure for grass pollen allergies, they can be managed through treatment and avoiding exposure to the pollen,” Karen Midthun, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, explained. “The approval of Oralair provides an alternative to allergy shots that must be given in a health care provider’s office. Oralair can be taken at home after the first administration.”

Grastek also includes fish gelatin, mannitol, and sodium hydroxide. Oralair also contains mannitol, microcrystalline cellulose, croscarmellose sodium, colloidal anhydrous silica, magnesium stearate, and lactose monohydrate. The new allergy pills must be given the first time under doctor supervision because of risks of severe reactions. Once the initial allergy pill is given under the tongue without a severe reaction, allergy suffers can then take the pills at home, avoiding the frequent doctor visits they were used to when they received allergy shots.

[Photo via Flickr user Bark]