Immunotherapy is a method of allergy treatment that involves introducing small amounts of allergen to your body and then gradually building up doses over a period of time until you develop an immunity. There are two types of immunotherapy treatments: subcutaneous immunotherapy (SCIT), also known as allergy shots, and sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT), or allergy drops.
Individuals with allergy symptoms that do not respond to medical treatment are prime candidates for immunotherapy. Once the allergen trigger has been identified, an extract of that substance is prepared. The delivery method depends on which type of immunotherapy treatment you are receiving.
If you opt for allergy shots, you are given small injections in the upper arm once or twice a week until a maintenance dose is reached. The frequency is gradually reduced over a period of several months, until you are receiving shots about once a month. It takes three to five years for your body to build up a tolerance to the allergen, so treatment is a long-term commitment.
Sublingual immunotherapy works on the same principle, but instead of allergy shots, you are given drops that you place under your tongue for several minutes and then swallow. This is usually done on a daily basis and, like allergy shots, results take anywhere from three to five years. Sublingual immunotherapy is not yet FDA approved but has several advantages over allergy shots, namely the ability to self-administer at home, and a lower risk of side effects and allergic reactions.
Is Immunotherapy Safe?
Both forms of immunotherapy are considered safe and effective long-term treatments for a number of allergies. It is most effective for those allergic to pollen, mold, dust mites, animal dander and insect venom. It will not work for food or drug allergies.
Side effects and complications are rare. Those receiving allergy shots might notice a little redness, swelling and tenderness at the injection site. Maintaining a consistent injection schedule helps to reduce the odds of serious reactions.
Allergy shots (subcutaneous immunotherapy) are the most common form of immunotherapy. They can be used as a long-term treatment for seasonal, indoor and insect sting allergies. Allergy shots work by getting your body used to the allergen slowly, with the hopes that you will develop an immunity or tolerance to the allergen. The process takes place in 2 phases, the build-up phase and the maintenance phase. The build-up phase involves a small amount of the allergen being injected into the upper arm once or twice a week for a few months. The dosage is gradually increased at each visit. The length of the build-up phase depends entirely on your body’s reaction. Once you have reached the effective dose, typically the most you can handle without showing symptoms, the maintenance phase will begin. The dosage is no longer increased at each visit and the number of shots is decreased. The maintenance phase involves an allergy shot once every month for three to five years.
Sublingual immunotherapy, or allergy drops, work by slowly getting your body used to what you are allergic to. Unlike traditional allergy shots, you are given drops that you place under your tongue for several minutes and then swallow. This is usually done on a daily basis and, like allergy shots, results take anywhere from three to five years. Sublingual immunotherapy is not yet FDA approved but has several advantages over allergy shots, namely the ability to self-administer at home, and a lower risk of side effects and allergic reactions.
Allergy symptoms can often be relieved through the use of over-the-counter or prescription medications and nasal sprays. Medical therapy provides short-term relief and may be enough of a solution for people with seasonal allergies or those whose symptoms are not severe. There are six major categories of medical allergy treatments including: antihistamines, decongestants, nasal corticosteroids, decongestant nasal sprays, allergy eye drops and mast cell inhibitors. If your symptoms do not improve with the use of medications, you should consult with an allergist about alternative treatments such as immunotherapy.