Allergen immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots, is considered a long-term treatment that decreases symptoms for many people with allergic rhinitis, allergic asthma or stinging insect allergy. Allergy shots can also be effective for people with hay fever and other seasonal allergies, as well as for year-round indoor allergies like mold, dust mites, and animal dander.
Allergies are often treated symptomatically. This means managing and treating the symptoms rather than the cause. There are numerous medications that can inhibit the release of histamine and other allergy-inducing chemicals. They help alleviate symptoms like redness, itching, swelling, and difficulty of breathing.
However, none of these therapies address the cause of the allergy; none of these therapies try to modify how the immune system reacts to allergens so that future attacks are prevented. Immunotherapy does exactly that. So, what is immunotherapy?
What is Immunotherapy?
Immunotherapy, also called allergy shots, is a series of vaccinations containing a specific allergen. The goal of immunotherapy is to condition the immune system to tolerate a specific stimulus or allergen so that symptoms and future occurrences are reduced.
When the immune system learns to handle the allergen, symptoms are less likely to show up. If symptoms do occur, they are not as serious and they do not stay for very long.
How is Immunotherapy Done?
Immunotherapy is done by injecting small amounts of the allergen in the subcutaneous part of the skin. This is not a one-time event because a series of doses need to be administered for the immune system to recognize the allergen as a harmless substance. Shots are given slowly and steadily until the immune system is completely conditioned with the presence of the specific allergen.
Albeit a slow process, allergy shots can lead to a lasting decrease of symptoms, and it can even lead to complete remission. This type of therapy can also prevent the development of new allergens and stimuli.
For example, there are people who are allergic to a specific species of grass pollen and they can develop an allergy to other species of grass pollen over a few years. Immunotherapy can help break this cycle.
How Long Does It Take Allergy Shots to Start Working?
As mentioned, this type of therapy is slow. It can take a long period of time before it can work. Just like everything, much depends on the person and their immune system. That is why strong commitment on the part of the patient is crucial.
Immunotherapy is divided into two phases: the build-up phase and the maintenance phase.
In the build-up phase, injections are given once or twice a week for a period of three to six months. Initial doses contain very low concentrations of the allergen. The amount of allergen is increased gradually until it reaches the maintenance phase. Many patients already see results during this phase, but it may take longer for some people before they can feel the effects of immunotherapy.
When the maintenance phase is reached, allergy shots are given once or twice a month for a period of three to five years. Some patients may stop on their third year while others may continue to five years depending on how well their immune systems react to the treatment.
Upon the completion of the maintenance phase, the treating physician usually recommends that the therapy be stopped. By this time, the patient should experience reduced symptoms or complete remission from the allergy.
People who experience relapses may need to undergo a longer maintenance phase. In some cases, a person may find that the shots never really helped.
Wishing you the best of health,
The Allergy Store