WHAT IS ALLERGY IMMUNOTHERAPY?
Allergy Immunotherapy is a preventative treatment used to diminish a response to an allergen (any substance recognized by the immune system that causes an allergic reaction). Allergies can have a detrimental effect on the quality of life when it limits what you can do. Immunotherapy may minimize the length and severity of future allergic reactions.
Doses of the allergen are gradually increased over time, resulting in increased tolerance to an allergen. Immunotherapy, in the form of allergy shots, has been successfully used for over 100 years. This type of Immunotherapy is called Subcutaneous Immunotherapy (SCIT) because the allergen is injected under the skin. SCIT has been effective in treating reactions to many types of tree, grass and weed pollen, mold spores, house dust, animal dander and insect venom. Recently allergen extracts have been formulated into tablets and drops for sublingual (under the tongue) administration and have shown some promise. This type of Immunotherapy is called Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT). Tablets for allergies to ragweed, two types of grass pollen and dust mites are available.
For SCIT, the process begins with weekly or biweekly shots that are given for around seven months. After seven months, if there is a decrease in the severity of your reaction to the allergen, then you may lengthen the time between shots to every two weeks, then progress to every four weeks. SCIT may last three to five years. SCIT is performed at your Gateway Asthma & Allergy Relief office (as a precaution in case a severe reaction should occur).
An advantage of using SLIT is that after the initial dose, SLIT can be administered at home. Doses are usually daily or three times a week, and the amount of allergen is gradually increased over time (similar to SCIT). Treatment may continue for three years or longer. The disadvantage of SLIT currently is that only a few allergens can be treated in tablet form. Also, most people with allergies are allergic to more than one allergen. Multiple allergens can be combined in one shot, but the tablets are limited to the number and types of allergens that can be dosed together.
POTENTIAL SIDE EFFECTS, RISKS, AND COMPLICATIONS
Side effects of SCIT include redness, swelling and soreness at the injection site and tend to occur after the initial doses and after each increase in dose. There is a risk of Anaphylaxis (an extreme and dangerous overreaction to the allergen).
Side effects of SLIT are usually local and mild. They include an itchy mouth or stomach discomfort, and they can usually be managed by dose adjustments after talking with your allergist. The risks of SLIT relate mostly to the nature of the treatment. The tablets are taken at home without direct medical supervision. Doubling the dose can be dangerous, and missing a dose can decrease the effectiveness and may lengthen the treatment duration.
Your Gateway Asthma & Allergy Relief doctor will determine if you are a candidate for Allergy Immunotherapy and recommend the most effective treatment for you.