Allergen Desensitisation

Allergic reactions to common substances such as pollen or seafood can be mild for some people but life-threatening for others.

Allergic responses vary hugely, even within the same person. Hay fever can cause an itchy, runny nose and eating peanut butter can result in anaphylactic shock or even death.

A chronic allergy problem can significantly impact your quality of life. It can cause reduced productivity at work or school, anxiety, severe dietary restrictions, and ongoing unpleasant symptoms.

The first step towards getting on top of your irritating or even debilitating allergies is to consult an expert who can accurately identify the cause of the allergy (called the allergen). Once the allergen has been identified, your doctor can advise you on the best possible treatment strategy.

One recommended treatment is allergen desensitisation, also known as allergy immunotherapy, which is a safe and effective treatment approach to long-term allergy relief.

Allergy immunotherapy reduces the risk of severe allergic reactions, improving your quality of life. The success rate of immunotherapy is very high, with about 85% of patients reporting that their allergy symptoms were either eliminated or significantly reduced.

Who Can Benefit From Allergy Immunotherapy?

Both children and adults can receive allergy immunotherapy, although it is not advised for children under five. This is because younger children may struggle to articulate any adverse symptoms they may be experiencing.

Allergy immunotherapy is particularly effective in treating allergic asthma and seasonal allergies, with long-lasting symptom reduction after the end of the course. Many allergies, from dust mites and bee venom, can be effectively treated.

The treatment of food allergies, such as peanut, egg, and cow’s milk allergies, results in 70-90% of patients becoming desensitised to the allergen.

How Does Allergy Immunotherapy Work?

Allergy desensitisation treatment helps your body to build a tolerance against the allergen by exposing you to gradually increasing amounts of the allergen. This process allows the immune system to “get used to” (become desensitised to) the allergen, weakening the response and helping to minimise symptoms substantially.

There are two main types of allergy immunotherapy: allergy injections and sublingual immunotherapy.

Allergy Injections

Allergy injections, or subcutaneous immunotherapy, are the most used and most effective form of allergy desensitisation. This treatment changes the immune system, thereby preventing the development of new allergies and asthma.

An example of allergy injection therapy is desensitisation to bee or wasp venom, which involves regular injections under the skin of your arm with increasing amounts of bee or wasp venom. The injections are given weekly for 12-15 weeks until the maximum dose is achieved. This is followed by injections at 2- to 8-week intervals with a top-up dose for a further three years.

Sublingual (Oral) Immunotherapy

Sublingual immunotherapy involves putting drops or dissolvable tablets of allergen extracts under your tongue. They are normally taken on a daily basis.

Oral immunotherapy is very successful in desensitising children with food allergies. It is also safe and effective for the treatment of rhinitis and asthma caused by allergies to dust mites, grass, cat dander, and tree pollens.

Like most medicines, oral immunotherapy can occasionally cause side effects. In the early stages of treatment, it is common to experience an itchy mouth. This is a mild allergic reaction which normally settles down within 20 minutes of starting treatment.

Most patients receiving sublingual immunotherapy report an improvement in symptoms and minimised use of traditional treatments, such as antihistamines and steroid nasal sprays. In addition, when this therapy is used from an early age it may prevent new allergies or asthma from developing.

Frequently Asked Questions

Sublingual immunotherapy takes three to four months to start working, but additional improvement can occur with continued long-term use.

Maintenance immunotherapy treatment is generally continued for three to five years. Some people have lasting remission, while others may relapse after discontinuing immunotherapy.

Allergy injections have been shown to be the most effective allergy desensitisation treatment for the best symptom relief.

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