Allergy immunotherapy can reduce, and possibly eradicate, an allergy through a series of shots over an extended period.
The treatment involves injection of the specific substance to which a person has an allergic reaction. It could involve an allergy to (grass removed, just leave it as pollen) pollen, pet dander, dust mites, mold, stinging insects, or many other things. Allergy shots are not given for food allergies. However, a form of FDA approved oral peanut immunotherapy is available.
Why It’s Done
Allergen immunotherapy may be recommended if medication doesn’t control a person’s allergic reactions well or if the side effects of the medication are too intense. Patients also might prefer it to the long-term use of allergy medication.
Because allergy shots contain allergens, a patient might experience a local reaction, which can include swelling, irritation, and redness where the shot was given. A patient could also experience reactions throughout the body, including: nasal congestion, sneezing, hives, wheezing, throat swelling, or tightness in the chest. There’s also the possibility of anaphylactic shock, a life-threatening reaction that must be treated by a medical professional.
What to Expect
The process begins with a doctor identifying the patient’s allergy or allergies during a medical evaluation through taking a history and performing a physical exam. Next, allergy testing is usually performed by pricking the skin with extracts of individual airborne allergens. This may be followed by an intradermal test, which entails injecting a small amount of diluted allergen within the skin, often on the upper arm(s). A positive test often looks and feels like a localized mosquito bite.
The immune system will be strengthened to fight the allergen in two phases:
- The build-up phase. Allergy shots are given once or twice a week. The dose increases until the target dose is reached. This allows the patient to get used to, or desensitize itself to, the allergens. Sometimes a more rapid buildup can be performed by utilizing a “cluster” approach.
- The maintenance phase. The target dose is reached. The immune system has built a tolerance for that substance. The allergy symptoms diminish. Now, an allergy shot may be needed only every two to four weeks to maintain significant improvement. This phase generally continues for three to five years.
Another form of treatment is sublingual immunotherapy, or SLIT. Sublingual treatment involves allergy tablets or allergy drops placed under the tongue, eliminating the need for injections. SLIT tablets are approved by the FDA and are covered by most insurance plans, but the drops have not been approved and many large reviews (meta-analyses) have shown SLIT drops to be less effective than subcutaneous allergen immunotherapy (aka allergy shots).
At Florida Medical Clinic, you’ll find specialists who can provide allergy immunotherapy.
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