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Immunotherapy Helps Children With Hay Fever, Asthma

January 20, 2009

Taking one grass pollen tablet every day can alleviate hay fever and asthma in children. These are the results of a study by medical experts in the team led by Prof. Dr. Albrecht Bufe (Experimental Pneumology) at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum. The study was carried out jointly with national colleagues and featured 253 children. Under this particular treatment, asthma symptoms declined by 64% and hay fever symptoms by 24%. The results are published in the current issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Dreaded allergic march

Up to 25% of the population in western industrial countries have hay fever. Far worse than the impact of the hay fever syndrome on the quality of life and capacity to work is the risk of the so-called allergic march, particularly in children: 10 to 50% of all child patients with untreated hay fever will develop asthma later on. To prevent this, medical experts opt for immunotherapies that aim to get the immune system slowly accustomed to whichever types of pollen are causing the allergy so that it no longer overreacts.

Active substance vs. placebo

This is also the aim of the grass pollen tablets which patients place once a day under their tongue where it dissolves. The participants in the study aged between 5 and 16 years were allocated at random to one of the two study groups, receiving either real tablets with active substance or placebos without active substance. Daily intake began two to six months before the start of the pollination season and continued until the season finished. The test persons kept records about their symptoms and their intake of corresponding medication, such as nasal spray or asthma spray. In addition, regular blood tests were carried out to see how their immune system reacted.

Clear improvement thanks to the grass pollen tablet.

The results confirmed the effect of the grass pollen tablets: hay fever symptoms were up 24% less pronounced in the group taking the active substance than in the placebo group. Accordingly, the group needed 34% less medication. Asthma symptoms decreased by up to 64%. The immunological blood tests confirmed the effect of the tablet. In general, the grass pollen tablets were well tolerated, apart from frequent itchiness in the mouth as a temporary side effect. “Just as with adults, this immunotherapy with the tablet being placed under the tongue is also very promising in children”, concludes Prof. Bufe. Further studies will be necessary to see whether there are any long-term improvements in the allergy. “For a long time now, standard hay fever treatment has consisted of desensitization/immunotherapy with the allergens being injected under the skin. If it transpires that the grass tablets have a similarly effective long-term impact, in future it will be possible to replace the injection therapy with sublingual treatment, and now also in children.”

A. Bufe, P. Eberle, E. Franke-Beckmann, J. Funck, M. Kimmig, L. Klimek, R. Knecht, V. Stephan, B. Tholstrup, C. Weißhaar, F. Kaiser: Safety and efficacy in children of an SQ-standardized grass allergen tablet for sublingual immunotherapy. In: Journal of Clinical Immunology, Vol. 123, Issue 1, Pages 167-173.e7, doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2008.10.044

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