Do you find yourself retreating indoors in spring to escape the wrath of pollen? Does visiting your pet-loving friend turn into an itchy-eyed, red-faced ordeal? Perhaps the mere presence of dust prompts an uncontrollable sneezing fit. You’re not alone. Over 50 million Americans of all ages experience allergies each year, making it the sixth most common chronic health issue in the United States.
Allergies can be the thief of joy, making it challenging to savor the things you love. This is where immunotherapy comes into play. Immunotherapy is a treatment that targets the immune system, which plays a pivotal role in allergies, especially environmental ones like pollen, dust, mold, and pet dander. The key instigator in this allergic drama is immunoglobulin E (IgE), an antibody produced by your immune system. When you encounter your allergen, it’s IgE that triggers the release of chemicals, paving the way for classic allergy symptoms: itchy eyes, runny nose, hives, and rashes.
The Power of Immunotherapy
Immunotherapy introduces controlled exposure to your allergen, gradually desensitizing your immune system. Over time, your body learns not to react dramatically when confronted with allergens, leading to a reduction in the production of IgE and, consequently, fewer allergy symptoms upon exposure.
Allergy Shots: A Common Route to Immunotherapy
The most prevalent form of immunotherapy is administered through allergy shots, scientifically known as subcutaneous immunotherapy (SCIT). These shots contain the specific allergens responsible for your symptoms and necessitate a prescription. The treatment begins with weekly injections of a small dose of the allergen, gradually building up to a full treatment dose. Once you reach this point, you can space out the injections, typically every three to four weeks, over a period extending up to five years or more.
Allergy shots can be precisely tailored to include the allergens to which you’re allergic. Administered at the correct dose, they are highly effective, not only in treating allergies but also in managing allergic asthma. In some cases, patients may even find they require less asthma medication after undergoing this treatment.
Immunotherapy is also a game-changer for those with allergies to stinging insects like wasps, honeybees, hornets, yellow jackets, and fire ants. It can significantly reduce the risk of anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction characterized by shock, breathing difficulties, and, in severe cases, death. This treatment is especially valuable for individuals who have previously experienced allergic reactions to insect stings.
However, it’s crucial to be aware of the risk of allergic reactions with allergy shots, ranging from mild to severe, including cases of anaphylaxis. As a safety precaution, you will be monitored in the doctor’s office for at least 30 minutes following each injection to promptly address any reactions.
During allergy shot treatment, you may need to refrain from certain medications prescribed for blood pressure or other conditions. Hence, it’s essential to consult your physician for the best strategy to manage all your health concerns.
Tablets or Drops: A Convenient Alternative
For some individuals, tablets serve as a more practical form of immunotherapy, known as sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT). These tablets are placed under the tongue, dissolve within one to two minutes, and are then swallowed. Similar to allergy shots, they require a prescription and encompass the allergens behind your symptoms.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved immunotherapy tablets for allergies related to northern grasses, ragweed, and dust mites. Unlike allergy shots, they don’t necessitate administration under a doctor’s supervision. They can be taken year-round or in the lead-up to and during the pollen season to manage your symptoms. The regimen typically involves taking them at least three times a week, and the full course of sublingual immunotherapy may span three to five years.
Although some healthcare providers prepare sublingual drops intended to treat other allergens, these are not FDA-approved. Their effectiveness remains uncertain due to the lack of standardized dosages. Moreover, unlike other forms of immunotherapy for allergies, most private health insurance plans, Medicaid, and Medicare do not cover sublingual drops.
Are You a Candidate for Immunotherapy?
If you’re considering immunotherapy, initiating a conversation with your doctor is essential. Candidates often experience allergy symptoms when exposed to specific allergens. To confirm that allergens are indeed the culprits behind your symptoms, allergy skin testing or IgE blood tests are typically required. Moreover, the ability to commit to the treatment is paramount, whether in the form of allergy shots involving numerous doctor visits or a multi-year course of tablets.
Immunotherapy may be recommended if:
- Your allergies remain inadequately controlled by oral medications
- Allergic symptoms significantly disrupt your daily life
- You cannot avoid the substances triggering your allergy symptoms
- You wish to address the root cause of your allergies rather than merely treating the symptoms
- You experience significant side effects from oral medications
Evaluating the Effectiveness of Immunotherapy
Immunotherapy often leads to substantial improvements in allergy symptoms. Some individuals find they require less medication to manage their symptoms, while others experience better symptom control with the medications they take. In some cases, immunotherapy can induce lasting changes to the immune system, extending beyond the treatment period. However, some individuals may need ongoing immunotherapy to maintain symptom control.
When pollen, dust, mold, or pet dander is the instigator of your relentless sneezing, runny nose, and itchy, red eyes, immunotherapy emerges as a potential savior. Gradual exposure to your specific allergen teaches your body to react less dramatically over time.
If you’re interested in exploring your options for allergy symptom management, it’s advisable to consult an allergist. Apurva Advanced Medical Care can offer guidance and a comprehensive consultation. Deciding whether to embark on immunotherapy is a personal decision, and while it requires commitment, the potential results may empower you to lead a life free from medications and filled with peace of mind.