Cedar fever is just a few weeks away. That annual pox on our town happens when juniper trees release their pollen. The trees might be happy, but it makes us miserable right at the end of the year.
Aside from loading up on the over-the-counter allergy medications, people have turned to weekly allergy shots or daily allergy drops to try to lessen cedar fever's effects.
Last fall, Aspire Allergy & Sinus tested a new treatment in Austin called ExACT Immunoplasty. It's the same medication that is in the shots, but instead of weekly shots in the arm or shoulder, patients get three shots total, each a month apart. The shots go directly into the lymph nodes that can be found in the crease where the thigh and stomach meet. Doctors use an ultrasound to make sure they are injecting the liquid directly into the lymph node.
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Dr. Christopher Thompson, the founder of Aspire, says the idea for ExACT Immunoplasty came from research done in Switzerland 20 years ago. What researchers realized is that with the regular allergy shots and drops, only a small amount was getting into the lymph nodes to help the body fight off the reaction from the allergen. The rest was getting digested and discarded by the body, Thompson says.
The Austin study last year was the 12th study done on this method, Thompson says, and it specifically looked at cedar allergies. Twenty-three patients enrolled, half of whom got the cedar antigen; the other half got a placebo.
Sisters Priscilla and Kristina Chyn were both enrolled in the study. Priscilla Chyn got the real thing and says that after the second injection, her cedar fever "was pretty much nonexistent."
"It would have been constant congestion, runny nose, pretty much a classic sinus infection for the duration of three months," she says. For her, previously, cedar fever was "misery in the air."
She says the shot just felt like a pinch and was not as painful as other shots.
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Kristina Chyn got the placebo. By month two when her sister was better, "I was pretty much dying," she says.
She has since done the real injections for grass, oak and cedar and plans to go back for mold, dust mites and ragweed. Each injection series can only cover three allergens at a time.
Kristina Chyn knew that she was given the real thing this time because the injection was a little more painful. She did have a bit of swelling on the skin around the injection site, which was a bit itchy, for about a week.
Since the study, Aspire has done injections on about 40 patients, Thompson says. The ExACT Immunoplasty comes with a price tag of $2,500 for a three-shot series. That compares to allergy shots that usually are about $10,000 worth of therapy, for injections each week over several years, but those shots are covered by insurance. ExACT is not. The drops, which also are not typically covered by insurance, cost about $50 a month, Thompson says.
Thompson says he believes that ExACT Immunoplasty will be "one and done," meaning it won’t have to be repeated once the three shots are delivered. If someone doesn’t get good results, though, Aspire will repeat the series for free.
Mike Exerkamp had ExACT done for ragweed and grasses beginning in August. Previously, he says, "I was physically ill." That meant needing to rest on the couch, going to the bathroom and throwing up, he says.
By the second shot of ExACT, he noticed a difference. "I’m back to the point where I can get by with Claritin," he says.
Previously he had done allergy shots the first time he lived in Austin in the 1990s, but "your schedule is consumed ... now if I want to take a vacation, we can do it."
These shots also were less painful than the shots in the arm, he says. "It’s not as bad as a mosquito bite," he says. "And I’m a person that hates shots."
Most of the same things that are treated with allergy shots and drops can be treated with ExACT. Aspire isn’t yet willing to do the process for things that have a high risk for anaphylaxis, such as bee and wasp stings and fire ant bites. Thompson says there was a study with this therapy done for bee stings on 76 patients; 87.5 percent of them did not have a reaction, but he’s not yet ready to try that. ExACT also isn’t for food allergies yet.
For people who have cedar fever, late October or early November would be the time to start the therapy for it to be effective by the time cedar fever hits.
"This therapy is going to be widely adopted, and patients are going to demand it," Thompson says. Once patients demand a procedure, pressure usually trickles up to insurance companies to cover it, he says.