Allergy Desensitization Therapy

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Immunotherapy injections or allergy desensitization therapy is an effective way of treating asthma and allergies, often leading to complete symptom relief.

What is Allergy Desensitization Therapy?

Allergy desensitization therapy is a preventive treatment for individuals who have allergic reactions to allergens like:

  • House dust mites

  • Grass pollens

  • Bee venom

  • Peanuts

  • Milk

  • Eggs

It involves giving patients gradually increased doses of the allergen or substance the individual is allergic to.

This gradual increase of the substance causes your immune system to have less sensitivity to that substance, because it causes “blocking” antibody production, reducing allergy symptoms when you encounter the substance in the future. Immunotherapy also decreases asthma and rhinitis-related inflammation.

What are the Types of Allergy Desensitization Therapy?

There are several ways to carry out allergy desensitization therapy. These include:

  • Subcutaneous immunotherapy (SCIT) allergy shots.

    The most effective and commonly used form of allergy desensitization therapy is subcutaneous immunotherapy (SCIT) allergy shots. This treatment changes your immune system, preventing the development of new asthma or allergies such as with food allergy desensitization, for instance.

  • Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) allergy tablets. 

    These provide a way of treating specific allergies without shots, and are taken under the tongue. Tablets, similar to shots, reduce your symptoms by assisting your body in building resistance to the allergen’s effects. Tablets only treat one form of allergen, unlike shots, and don’t prevent new asthma or allergy development. These tablets are available for treating allergies to grass pollen and ragweed.

  • Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) allergy drops.

    Another type of SLIT are allergy drops and they work similar to tablets. Drops are used worldwide, but don’t have the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval in the U.S. and they have off-label usage.

  • Oral immunotherapy (OIT).

    This involves giving the allergen (say peanuts) by mouth, known as peanut desensitization. Most physicians and experts consider this type of therapy experimental, and excludes usage in individuals with severe allergen-induced anaphylaxis.

What are the Benefits of Allergy Desensitization Therapy?

When oral medicine or allergy avoidance fail to control an individual’s allergic reaction, allergy desensitization therapy could be the solution. There are numerous benefits for individuals receiving allergy shots, including:

1. Some individuals don’t tolerate oral medicines well. They may do better with allergy desensitization therapy, if they aren’t bothered by needles or injections.

2.Although the cost of this therapy, particular rush immunotherapy, is more costly than OTC medications, in the longer-term, allergy shots are less costly than oral medicines since you don’t have to take them forever.

3.Allergy medicines you take by mouth treats allergy symptoms, but the shots treat the underlying cause of your allergies. When allergy desensitization therapy is successful, individuals benefit with a complete cure since the shots treat the cause and not just the symptoms.

How Effective is Allergy Desensitization Therapy?

This therapy has shown to reduce the symptoms of many different allergies, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology.  It prevents new allergy development and even prevents allergic disease progression from allergic asthma to rhinitis in children. The allergy shots effectiveness seems to be related to the treatment program’s length and the allergen dose. Some individuals experience lasting allergy symptom relief, while others might relapse once they stop the shots.

If after a year, you don’t see any improvement, your immunologist or allergist will work with you to find a better treatment option for you.

Allergy Immunotherapy Side Effects?

A typical reaction is swelling and redness at the site of injection. This may occur instantly or after a few hours after you receive treatment. In some cases, the allergy immunotherapy side effects may include increased allergic symptoms like:

  • Hives

  • Sneezing

  • Nasal congestion

It’s rare to experience severe allergy shot reactions. If you do though, seek immediate medical care. An anaphylactic reaction can cause symptoms such as:

  • Wheezing

  • Throat swelling

  • Nausea

  • Tightness in the chest

  • Dizziness

Most severe reactions will develop within a half hour of the injection. Because of this, it’s recommended you wait a minimum of 30 minutes at the doctor’s office after you receive allergy desensitization therapy.

How Does Allergy Desensitization Therapy Work?

These shots work similar to a vaccine where your body responds to different amounts of a specific allergen you receive in gradually increased doses, by developing tolerance or immunity to the allergen.

There are a couple of phases:

  1. Build-up phase:

    You receive injections with increasing allergen amounts around one to two times each week, typically for around three to six months.

  2. Maintenance phase: 

    You start this once your body reaches the effective dose. The effective dose will depend on your sensitivity level to the allergen and how your body responses to the build-up phase. In the maintenance phase, you’ll have longer time periods between your treatments that range from two to four weeks.

You might notice a reduction in your symptoms when you’re in the build-up phase, however, it could take up to a year on the maintenance dose for you to see any improvement. If your allergy desensitization therapy is successful, you generally continue your maintenance treatment for three to five years.

What You Can Expect From Allergy Desensitization Therapy

Your allergy symptoms won’t go away overnight. While symptoms could improve in your first year of therapy, most noticeable improvements tend to occur in the second year of treatment. Most individuals are desensitized to their allergens by the third year, and don’t have any substantial allergic reactions to their allergens any longer.

While most people are free of their allergies within a few years, some require ongoing shots to keep control of their symptoms.

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