Allergies are common and costly. Total costs are in the billions. An increasing proportion of this number is being shifted to the patient, in the form of higher copays and deductibles. The price of health care is now a real part of our health care conversation.
When choosing the most appropriate allergy treatment, doctors and patients should consider efficacy, side effects and cost. The most common treatment options for allergy patients are:
3. Immunotherapy (also know as allergy shots)
It is well established that allergy shots provide the most relief but are they worth the cost? A recent study* used an advanced computer model to address this question. They considered these factors most important in making a decision:
- patient age
- life expectancy
- number of months per year medications are required
- cost of medications
- number of allergies
- duration of immunotherapy (3 vs 5 years)
A virtual allergy patient was put through economic analysis. He was doing well using an intra-nasal steroid, the gold standard in treatment. Unfortunately, nasal sprays do not alter the course of the disease, symptoms recur shortly after they are discontinued. There is no endpoint for the patient. On the other hand, immunotherapy can induce long term tolerance after only 3-5 years of therapy. This means that the benefits will continue long after your shots are finished. Despite this advantage, allergy shots are usually reserved for patients who fail medical therapy. Economically, younger patients would be better off with 3-5 years of shots, not a lifetime of nasal steroids.
The attached figure demonstrates a large area where immunotherapy is more cost effective than medical therapy. It must be noted, this figure only represents those patients that are doing well on nasal sprays. For patients who continue to have symptoms despite medications, the decision would be shifted heavily in favor of allergy shots.
* Kennedy J, Robinson D, Christophel J, Borish L, Payne S. Decision-making analysis for allergen immunotherapy versus nasal steroids in the treatment of nasal steroid‐responsive allergic rhinitis. American Journal of Rhinology & Allergy. 2014; 28(1) 59-64.