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Study: allergy shots little use to young asthmatics

children January 29, 1997
Web posted at: 8:15 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Jeff Levine

BALTIMORE (CNN) -- For asthmatics such as 7-year-old James Childress, simply breathing can be a challenge.

Traditionally, doctors have treated children like James with a combination of allergy shots and anti-asthma drugs. The shots work against allergy symptoms, but new research published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine suggests they may be unnecessary for asthma.

"I think it's fair to say they didn't help," said Dr. Franklin Adkinson Jr., who led the research team at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

"Certainly, we couldn't measure any effectiveness, any clinical benefit from them."

The Johns Hopkins researchers gave 60 youngsters placebo shots while 61 others received injections designed to protect them against allergies to several substances.

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The 121 children in the study were moderate to severe asthmatics with a variety of allergies. The bottom line: There was no difference between those who got the shots and those who didn't.

"We were unable to demonstrate any effect of allergen injections on the course of the asthma over a period of 30 months," Adkinson said.

Adkinson said the children studied were more cooperative than most in taking their medicine, and conceded shots may benefit patients who are younger and have mild asthma.

Allergy shots have been around for nearly a century, and the idea that they don't help asthmatics may come as a surprise to some doctors.

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"It doesn't agree with previous studies, and I would hesitate to change our approach," said Dr. Michael Kaliner of the Washington Hospital Center.

About one in 20 adults suffer from the shortness of breath caused by periodic attacks of asthma. The disease is far more common in children -- about one in 10 have it -- and many outgrow it. Attacks are often sparked by an allergic reaction to pollen, dust, animal fur, feathers or other substances.

 
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