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Philly physician Q&A hits many key points on newer allergy treatments


4 Star

More than shots, there's new help for allergy sufferers

Our Review Summary

allergies and pollen and sneezingThis is a Q&A with a physician about allergy treatments. It offers a mostly solid if standard review of what allergies are, what treatment alternatives are available, and some information about costs. It’s a “sole-source” consumer health story of the kind prepared regularly by news organizations via interviews with local (in this case Philadelphia-based) medical experts. Some news organizations have a rotating list of institutions whose experts are asked to address various medical topics, bringing PR value to the experts’ institutions and consumer health expertise to readers and viewers.

Although it’s missing any hard quantitative research data, the story hits a good number of high notes and benchmarks in the “news you can use” category. One downside was its heavy emphasis on newer delivery options for immunotherapy, which will not be needed in most cases.


Why This Matters

Allergies are a common cause of sometimes debilitating and clearly miserable symptoms, affecting millions of men, women, and children. Health agency statistics worldwide support the point–also made in the piece–that prevalence has been consistently rising and the costs of treating allergies has soared into the billions in the U.S. alone. Thus, there is wide and deep interest in what works to control or prevent symptoms, and in therapies that target the immunologic sabotage that is at the root of allergic reactions.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?


Although the physician-expert interviewed for the article works at an academic medical center–where there is conceivably a vested interest in root-cause and advanced immunotherapies instead of OTC symptomatic care–the article deserves gold stars for noting the costs of the newer sublingual tablet and drop treatments, and some important information about what most insurers will and won’t cover. Ideally, the article would have also mentioned the costs of over-the-counter options to provide a comparison point.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

Even with a Q&A format, articles about allergies can be more useful by making sure to include relative and absolute rates of benefit from various treatments. This article leaves the readers with the idea that all or most people get relief from one or more of the triad of treatment approaches: avoidance of allergy triggers, OTC or prescription drugs like antihistamines and nasal steroids, and immunotherapies like allergy shots. But drawbacks and side effects should be made clear, so that the true benefit is more accurate.

For example, while the article does note that successful immunotherapy often takes years, it doesn’t report:

  • failure rates,
  • the frequency of need for multiple treatments,
  • and, the rate of side effects of OTC drugs and other treatments, especially for older adults and those with potential for drug interactions.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?


The article duly notes the most common side effect of the newer sublingual drops treatment and the rare risk of serious side effects from allergy shots. The article could have been strengthened by including information on the side effects of OTC and prescription drug treatments.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The article relies on the credentialed expertise of an allergy specialist, and the “Ask the Expert” format means it’s mostly a “review” of best practices and what’s available therapeutically. The interview subject makes allusions to trial data (“significant decrease” of symptoms, follow-up period) without giving information on the quality of the studies.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


This story didn’t disease monger; allergies are certainly a common affliction.

But, while this isn’t enough to lose the Satisfactory rating, there was what we call “treatment mongering” because of the emphasis on immunotherapy for treatment. Most people won’t need this level of treatment, and will do well with standard OTC and prescription medications.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Applicable

The format clearly excludes independent sources commenting on what the expert is saying. The interviewee himself might have quoted another source or two and strengthened his information, but overall, N/A seems reasonable.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The article does a pretty good job of explaining alternatives to the relatively new immunotherapies, as well as some treatment cost comparisons. As stated earlier, the discussion was weighted toward immunotherapy and not OTC and prescription medications.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


The report makes clear what’s FDA approved and what’s not; and where to get the latest immunotherapies, and where people cannot get them. Good job on this.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


It seems reasonably clear that the timing is related to the fact that this is prime allergy season for readers. Although the intro makes a grab for a news hook, it’s a pretty weak one, given that the “newest” immunotherapies have been available for at least a couple of years. But again, we don’t think the article was intended to break any news or present anything as especially novel.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?


The feature was not based on a release as far as we can tell from the university’s news release site.

Total Score: 7 of 9 Satisfactory


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