DESENSITISATION

Often referred as Allergy Immunotherapy or allergy shots, this is a long-term medical treatment for patients suffering with allergies. It’s the closest thing to a cure for allergies.

It is particularly effective for treating the symptoms of allergic rhinitis, allergic asthma, conjunctivitis (eye allergy) or an allergy to stinging insects.

Allergy shots offer lasting relief of allergy symptoms even after the treatment. It’s a cost effective and extremely beneficial treatment for any patient who suffers with allergies.

The treatment is administered gradually with increasing doses of allergen extracts by injection or drops/tablets under the tongue, often over a period of years.

Who Can Benefit from Immunotherapy?

Both adult and children patients with certain allergies may be suited to allergy shots. There are, however, a few criteria that need to be met by children under the age of 5 years old, and by older patients with medical conditions such as cardiac disease.

Allergy shots are not used to treat food allergies. The best option for people with food allergies is to be strict about removing that food from their diet.

The decision to have allergen shots should be made together with the doctor and should be based on:

•    Length of allergy season and severity of your symptoms
•    How well medications and/or environmental controls are helping your allergy symptoms
•    Your desire to avoid long-term medication
•    Time available for treatment (allergy shots require a significant commitment)
•    Cost, which may vary depending on region and insurance coverage

What Does Immunotherapy Treatment Involve?

Following the decision to proceed with treatment, the doctor will refer you to an allergy specialist to undergo allergy testing.  Physical examination is done to assess general fitness, if you are severely asthmatic it is less likely that you will be considered for treatment – severe allergic reactions to immunotherapy, although rare, are most dangerous in asthma patients.

Aside from physical assessment, the allergy specialist will perform a Skin-Prick Test or Skin Patch test and sometimes will ask you to do a blood test for allergic antibodies.

Skin-Prick Test  This involves a series of small needle pricks in one marked area of the body and placing a drop of solution containing a possible allergen on the pricked skin. If the skin develops a red, raised itchy area (called a wheal), it usually indicates an allergy to that allergen. This is called a positive reaction.

Skin Patch Test – This test is done using the allergen solution placed on a pad, which is then taped to the skin, usually on your back, for 24 to 72 hours. You will return to meet with the allergy specialist after 24 hours for an initial assessment of any reaction, with a second assessment after 2 days. This test is used to detect contact dermatitis.

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How Do Allergen Shots Work?

Allergy Immunotherapy works like a vaccine. A vaccine introduces a small dose of a foreign agent so that the immune system is ready to defend the body against infection, should it encounter the foreign agent at an infectious level in the future. The same principle is used with allergy immunotherapy: the body is injected with the particular substance that the patient is allergic to, initially in very small quantities. With gradually increasing doses, the body develops immunity, or tolerance, to the allergen.

This immunity starts to build after several injections of the allergen, which are usually administered once to twice a week for 3 to 6 months. Once the effective dose is reached, the patient will then be injected with the allergen for maintenance, at intervals determined by our allergy specialist. If the shots are effective, these maintenance treatments will be continued for 3 to 5 years.

How Effective Is The Allergy Immunotherapy?

Allergy Immunotherapy has shown promising and effective results, having a proven ability to decrease the symptoms of many allergies. It has been demonstrated by the Allergy Academy that it can also prevent the development of new allergies. In children it can prevent the progression of allergic diseases.

The effectiveness of allergy shots is related to the length of the treatment program as well as the dose of the allergen. Relapse may be experienced after discontinuing allergy shots. It is best to consult your allergist if there is no sign of improvement after maintenance therapy. Alternative treatment options will be discussed and the factors responsible for the failure of the allergy shots will be explained fully. Such factors can include:

•   Inadequate dose of allergen in the allergy vaccine
•   Missing allergens not identified during the allergy evaluation
•    High levels of allergen in the environment
•    Significant exposure to non-allergic triggers, such as tobacco smoke

What To Expect Afterwards

Typical reactions at the injection site can include redness and swelling, which will fade after few hours. Some people experience sneezing, nasal congestion or hives, which will disappear in time.

Serious reactions to allergy shots are rare. Symptoms of anaphylactic reaction can include swelling in the throat, wheezing or tightness in the chest, nausea and dizziness. This is a serious reaction that is most likely to develop within 30 minutes of the allergy shots. In these cases it is recommended that the patient remains in the allergist’s office for at least an hour after receiving the shots.

For more information regarding allergy immunotherapy, skin prick and skin patch, contact Dr. A. R. Shamma Medical Center. Our world-renowned dermatologist and allergist, Prof. Dr. Michael Meurer will be happy to assist you and further discuss this treatment. 

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