Immunotherapy Can Provide Lasting Allergy Relief
Immunotherapy treatment (allergy shots) is based on a century-old concept that the immune system can be desensitized to specific allergens that trigger allergy symptoms. These symptoms may be caused by allergic respiratory conditions, such as allergic rhinitis and asthma.
While allergy medications often control symptoms, if you stop taking your medication, your allergy symptoms return shortly afterward. Allergy shots can potentially lead to lasting remission of allergy symptoms, and they may even prevent the development of asthma and new allergies.
Immunotherapy treatment involves injecting the allergen or allergens causing your allergy symptoms. These allergens are identified by a combination of a medical evaluation performed by a trained healthcare professional and allergy skin or blood tests.
Some people have lasting remission of their allergy symptoms with immunotherapy, but others may relapse after discontinuing treatment.
Treatment begins with a build-up phase. Injections containing increasing amounts of the allergen are given one to two times a week until the target dose is reached. This target dose varies from person to person. The target dose may be reached in three to six months with a conventional schedule of one dose increase per visit. Or it may be achieved in a shorter period and fewer visits with an accelerated schedule.
Still Working After 100 Years
In 1911, allergen immunotherapy was introduced. The earliest published successes for allergen immunotherapy were based on the work of two English scientists, Leonard Noon and John Freeman. Recognizing that pollen was the cause of hay fever, these scientists thought that they could induce immunity and tolerance by injecting people who had hay fever with the pollen to which they were allergic. This idea was based on the positive results of vaccines that produced protection against infectious disease, such as small pox.
Over the years, we’ve learned much more about allergen immunotherapy. Among the most important findings is that immunotherapy can provide long-term symptom relief for years after treatment is discontinued. Research has demonstrated that allergy immuno-therapy can be effective in treating allergic asthma, allergic rhinitis and conjunctivitis, stinging insect allergy, and atopic dermatitis.
The maintenance phase begins when the target dose is reached. Once the maintenance dose is reached, the time between allergy injections can be increased. It generally ranges from every two weeks to every four weeks. Maintenance immunotherapy treatment is usually continued for three to five years.
Some people have lasting remission of their allergy symptoms with immunotherapy, but others may relapse after discontinuing treatment. Therefore, the duration of allergen immunotherapy varies from person to person.
Risks involved with immunotherapy are rare, but may include serious, life-threatening anaphylaxis. For that reason, immunotherapy should only be given under the supervision of a physician or qualified physician extender (such as a nurse practitioner or physician assistant) in a facility equipped with proper staff and equipment to identify and treat adverse reactions to allergy injections.
The decision to begin immunotherapy is based on several factors, including the length of the allergy season and severity of your symptoms, how well medications and allergen avoidance measures control your allergy symptoms, and your desire to avoid long-term medication use. Immunotherapy will also require a significant time commitment during the build-up phase, and a less frequent commitment during the maintenance phase.
Source: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, www.AllergyandAsthmaRelief.org
This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Winter 2011-2012.