Unlike medications that provide temporary relief, allergy immunotherapy does not mask symptoms, but can actually improve the course of allergic disease for the long term. This can mean that the burdens of allergy, such as taking daily medications and missing work or school, may be reduced. Allergy immunotherapy has even been shown to reduce the risk of developing asthma in patients with allergic rhinitis and prevent the development of new sensitivities in people who already have an allergic disease.
How does Immunotherapy work?
Immunotherapy, also known as “allergy injection” is a form of treatment that uses extracts of natural allergens, such as pollen, mold spores, dust mites, and animal dander, that cause allergic reactions in sensitive people. Allergen extracts are made up of tiny amounts of these allergens collected from their source in nature and dissolved in sterile liquid solutions for use by your doctor. Allergen injections strengthen your immune system and increase your tolerance to unavoidable allergens. Once your doctor has identified your specific allergen(s), you start the initial build-up phase by receiving a low level of exposure to those allergens injected into the skin. Over time, the amount of allergen exposure is gradually increased so that your body gets used to it and does not react with allergy symptoms. In this way, your body can become desensitized to the allergens that once caused problems for you. Then, you continue to receive the effective allergen dose during the maintenance phase of therapy. Allergy immunotherapy is a particularly good choice for:
- People with allergy symptoms that cannot be controlled by avoidance or medications
- People who have unacceptable side effects with medications
- People who want to reduce their use of long-term medications
Proven Benefits of Immunotherapy
- over 100 years of use
- 85% of people treated may achieve symptom relief within the first year of starting immunotherapy.
- may prevent the development of asthma
- safe for children, adults & pregnancy
As with any kind of medical treatment, there are many factors to consider before starting. Allergen immunotherapy requires a series of office visits for injections of allergen extracts into the skin over several years. Therefore, people considering allergen immunotherapy need to know that they are committing to long-term therapy, and need to keep up with office visits as scheduled to get the best results.
Initial Build Up Phase
During the initial build-up phase of therapy, you will need to plan on 1 or 2 office visits per week. After each allergy injection, you will be monitored in the office for at least 30 minutes. The purpose of the build-up phase is to establish a target dose that will control your allergy symptoms, which can usually be reached within 3 to 6 months.
Once your target dose is reached, the maintenance phase begins.
During the maintenance phase, the time interval between office visits is typically lengthened. Injections may be given every 2 to 4 weeks. The exact duration of therapy cannot be predicted for any one person starting therapy, but is often around 3 to 5 years. The length of treatment is based on each individual patient’s need. Overall, the benefits of allergen immunotherapy can last many years – even life-long – after stopping therapy.
Most people don’t have much trouble with allergy shots. However, since they contain the substances that cause your allergies, reactions are possible, and can include:
- Local reactions, which can involve redness, swelling or irritation at the injection site. These common reactions typically begin within a few hours of the injection and clear up soon after.
- Systemic reactions, which are less common — but potentially more serious. You may develop sneezing, nasal congestion or hives. More-severe reactions may include throat swelling, wheezing or chest tightness.
- Anaphylaxis is a rare life-threatening reaction to allergy shots. It can cause low blood pressure and trouble breathing. Anaphylaxis often begins within 30 minutes of the injection, but sometimes starts later than that.
The possibility of a severe reaction is scary — but you won’t be on your own. You’ll be observed in the doctor’s office for 30 minutes after each shot, when the most serious reactions usually occur.
Vanessa L. Seidell RPA-C
Allergy testing and treatment
161 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016