Allergies are miserable, particularly when you have environmental allergies to things around you from which you cannot easily escape. The most common allergies people have are hay fever, food allergies, indoor allergies, insect allergies, allergic asthma, animal allergies, and hives, affecting up to 37 percent of individuals in the US. One way to treat these types of allergies is called allergy immunotherapy.
While allergy medications like steroids, decongestants, and antihistamines simply override the allergic responses in your body (such as sneezing, cough, wheezing, runny nose, hives, and watery or itchy eyes), allergy immunotherapy works to reduce your allergic symptoms with the help of your own immune system.
Common allergy types that can be treated with allergy immunotherapy include hay fever (grasses, weeds, and tree pollens), allergies to indoor allergens (dust mites and molds), insect sting allergies, and animal allergies.
When you use allergy immunotherapy, you take in a small amount of the allergen initially – usually not enough to cause severe symptoms. The allergen dose is gradually increased, possibly because you make antibodies that block your allergy-related IgE antibodies, reducing your allergic symptoms. The inflammation brought on by allergies is reduced, so you don’t have as many asthma symptoms, hives, or symptoms of nasal congestion.
If you see a doctor for allergies, you will often have allergy testing first to see exactly what you are allergic to. If an allergy is identified and you decide to have allergy immunotherapy, the doctor works with a specialized pharmacy, which makes a custom solution for you that contains the allergens you are allergic to.
Once you tolerate low doses of the immunotherapy treatment, the dose is gradually increased until your symptoms improve. Over time allergy immunotherapy can greatly diminish and even cure your allergies. Allergy immunotherapy is the only science-based and proven medical treatment for naturally reducing allergies in the body.
If you have the allergen introduced at the doctor’s office using an injection, these are called “allergy shots”. It is also called SCIT, which is short for “subcutaneous immunotherapy”. The nurse injects the allergen or allergens in the shoulder so they can be absorbed into your body.
If you have the allergen presented to your body under the tongue, it is called sublingual allergy immunotherapy drops (SLIT). These are drops or tablets that allow the allergen to get into your body by being absorbed through the mucus membrane beneath your tongue rather than with an injection.
With sublingual allergy immunotherapy drops, you do not need to see the doctor regularly but will take the sublingual drops or tablets at home. This is less expensive and often as effective without requiring regular injections. There are FDA-approved allergy drops available for grass pollen, dust mites, trees, pets, and many more.
Allergy immunotherapy is used mainly for the types of allergies we usually call “hay fever”, although allergic asthma and bee sting-like reactions can be treated as well. These are collectively related to the production of IgE – an antibody that causes the histamine chemical to be released from your immune cells whenever you are allergic to something.
Food allergies can also be treated with allergy immunotherapy. Injectable immunotherapy is possible for peanut, egg, and milk allergies. Another form of allergy immunotherapy called “oral immunotherapy” or OIT involves being fed small amounts of these allergens to reduce the allergic symptoms. Other food allergies have not been extensively studied as well so it is less understood if other allergies can be managed this way.