This Week in Research: Bariatric Surgery Doesn’t Work, But Allergy Drops Do

Share the News

Just because it worked for Star Jones doesn't mean it'll work for you.
Just because it worked for Star Jones doesn’t mean it’ll work for you.

In this series, we look at the newest findings coming out of our area’s top research universities. We’ve got some great minds in Baltimore — let’s learn what they’re learning!

Over the past fifteen years, the number of Americans undergoing bariatric surgery for obesity has skyrocketed; these days, nearly a quarter of a million people get the surgery each year. Although the operation itself is quite costly, doctors and scientists had hopes that it would reduce overall healthcare costs by helping treat chronic obesity. That, it turns out, may have been wishful thinking.

A study by researchers at Johns Hopkins tracked nearly 30,000 bariatric surgery patients over the course of six years, comparing their health care costs with those of similarly obese patients who didn’t undergo the procedure. The difference between the groups? Basically nothing. In other words, while bariatric surgery offers “dramatic short-term results,” according to Dr. Edward H. Livingston, it “does not provide an overall societal benefit” and “should be viewed as an expensive resource,” not a panacea for obesity. Crucial caveat:  just because patients had high health care costs doesn’t mean that there weren’t underlying improvements in their health. Perhaps, notes study leader Jonathan Weiner, patients had previously been too obese to get knee replacements before their bariatric surgery. Still, public health officials are taking notice.


That sound of sniffing, sneezing, and general misery is a sure sign that allergy season is upon us. Currently, people with severe allergies to things like ragweed, pollen, or dust mites are treated with weekly allergy shots, a form of treatment that’s both painful and time-consuming. But new research out of Johns Hopkins offers hope of another way:  instead of making weekly trips to the doctor’s office for a shot, allergy sufferers may soon be able to place a drop of liquid under their tongues in order to feel better.

The proposed allergy drops work in the same way that the shots do:  by exposing the body to small quantities of the allergen, they induce gradual acclimation. Sublingual (under-the-tongue) drops are already common in Europe, though they haven’t yet been approved for use in the U.S. by the FDA. But that may soon change, thanks to the work of Johns Hopkins researchers, who compiled data from 63 published studies involving more than 5,000 patients. In eight out of 13 studies focusing on allergic asthma, there was “strong evidence” that the drops worked; in nine of the 36 studies that compared the drops to other treatment, they produced at least a 40 percent reduction in symptoms.

Share the News