Allergen immunotherapy, often referred to as desensitisation, is considered the closest thing to a “cure” for allergy.
Think of Immunotherapy as being like a vaccine. Treatment involves the regular administration of gradually increasing doses of allergen extracts over a period of about 3 years.
Over time, the body develops immunity so when exposed to the allergens, they can be tolerated with few or no symptoms.
Immunotherapy is the only treatment available that targets the cause of allergy rather than just the symptoms.
Important Immunotherapy Facts
Immunotherapy “switches off” the allergy, by changing the way the immune system reacts to offending allergens.
Reduces the production of the allergen-specific IgE antibodies which initiate allergic reactions
Moderates the production of inflammatory mediators (such as histamine) which cause allergic symptoms
Stimulates the production of blocking antibodies (antibodies which block the allergen-specific IgE antibodies from initiating allergic reactions)
Who should consider immunotherapy
Immunotherapy is appropriate for individuals suffering from IgE-mediated allergic diseases such as allergic rhinitis, asthma and conjunctivitis, and stinging insect allergy.
It is most commonly recommended when:
Symptoms are severe
Allergens are difficult to avoid
Medications are ineffective
Medications cause side effects
The individual prefers to avoid medications
Who should not consider immunotherapy
Immunotherapy is not routinely recommended for the treatment of atopic eczema, as the evidence of its effectiveness is currently limited. Immunotherapy is not available for the treatment of food allergy at the present time, however research is ongoing.
Why Do Immunotherapy?
Immunotherapy is a very effective treatment and has a number of key benefits.
Firstly, it alters the immune response to “switch off” allergies.
Reducing the severity of allergic symptoms
Reducing the need for medication
Improving quality of life
Reducing the onset of new allergic sensitivities (particularly in children)
Preventing the progression of disease from allergic rhinitis to asthma
Types of Immunotherapy:
Sublingual Immunotherapy (Under the tongue vaccine)
Subcutaneous immunotherapy (Injections)
Immunotherapy can be administered sublingually (under the tongue) or via subcutaneous injection. Sublingual immunotherapy is a daily treatment which can be self-administered at home. It involves putting a liquid or tablet form of the allergen extract under the tongue and keeping it there for 2 minutes before swallowing. This is done every morning, prior to eating, drinking or brushing your teeth. Subcutenous injections are performed as monthly maintenace injections by your doctor.
Sublingual Immunotherapy side effects
Sublingual immunotherapy side effects: Upon beginning treatment, some patients experience side-effects such as irritation, itchiness or minor swelling inside the mouth, and stomach upset.
These side-effects can be easily controlled with anti-histamine medications, and should resolve after the first few weeks of treatment. Advantages of the sublingual approach to immunotherapy include:
fewer doctor visits,
home dosing after the first treatment,
very low incidence of serious reactions.
Subcutaneous immunotherapy side effects
Subcutaneous immunotherapy involves having a series of injections. To begin with the injections are performed weekly and the dose of allergen extract is increased gradually with each injection. Upon reaching the maintenance dose, injections are performed less frequently, on a monthly basis.
A common side-effects of subcutaneous immunotherapy is swelling and discomfort at the site of the injection. Some patients initially experience exacerbation of allergic symptoms with each dose, however this can be controlled with antihistamine medication. Unlike sublingual immunotherapy which can be performed at home, all injections must be performed in a medical facility under medical supervision. Though serious reactions are uncommon, patients are required to remain in the medical facility for 30 minutes after each injection for monitoring.
About Immunotherapy Course: Immunotherapy is a commitment to a 3-5 year course.
Immunotherapy is not a quick fix treatment for allergy, and symptom relief does not occur immediately. Usually it will take between 6-9 months for patients to notice an improvement in their symptoms.
To achieve the most effective relief from allergy symptoms and best reduce the likelihood symptoms will return, it is recommended immunotherapy is continued for a period of 3-5 years without interruption. This is the same for both sublingual and subcutaneous approaches.
Our medical team will quote you for your immunotherapy. Immunotherapy costs depend on the route of administration as well as the number of allergens being desensitised. Some private health funds may offer rebates.
How regular are your Immunotherapy reviews
Every 6 months you will require a Doctors review to assess your progress and monitor your treatment course.