Immunotherapy is the only long-term treatment for seasonal and indoor allergies. This treatment involves getting your body used to the allergen slowly, so after a while your body will develop an immunity or tolerance to the allergen. This treatment is recommended for those whose symptoms are not well controlled through medication or anyone looking for long-term relief.
Allergy shots are the most common type of immunotherapy. The process contains two distinct phases, the buildup and the maintenance phase. The buildup phase requires visits to the clinic once a week for a few months. While there, you will receive an injection in your upper arm with a small amount of the allergen. Throughout this phase the dosage within the shots is gradually increased at every visit. The length of this phase depends on how well your body handles the shots.
Once you have reached the effective dose, the most your body can handle without showing symptoms, the maintenance phase will begin. The dosage is no longer increased. This phase can last from three to five years.
Since allergy shots contain a substance you are allergic to there are some risks involved. Swelling or redness typically develops at the site of injection but quickly goes away. Sneezing, nasal congestion and hives may develop as well as more severe reactions such as wheezing or chest-tightening. The most severe reaction, anaphylaxis, rarely occurs. Shots are administered in a clinic setting. Patients are asked to stay in the clinic for 10-20 minutes after each injection in order to ensure if symptoms do develop, they can be treated quickly.
Sublingual Immunotherapy, or allergy drops, are a form of immunotherapy that does not require an injection. This method is currently only approved to treat environmental allergies, such as those to pollen, dander, mold and dust. The drops are specially formatted for each patient, depending on the results of their allergy tests. Unlike allergy shots, this treatment is administered in the comfort of your own home. Twice a day, seven days a week you will place a few drops under your tongue. This helps build up your immune system. Once you reach your effective dose you will enter the maintenance phase. The dosage of the drops will stay consistent and you will only need to visit the clinic once a year.
The most common medical treatment for allergy symptoms is antihistamines, decongestants, antileukotrienes and corticosteroids. Antihistamines block histamine, which causes redness, swelling and itching. This drug may cause drowsiness. Decongestants are used to relieve the feeling of pressure, congestion and redness as they reduce swelling of the blood vessels in the nose and eyes. This type of medication should only be used for a few days; continuous use can actually make symptoms worse. Corticosteroids reduce inflammation, helping to prevent and treat nasal stuffiness, sneezing and running nose. Unlike other medications, corticosteroids must be taken regularly for up to two weeks before you’ll see any signs of improvement. Short-term use has been linked with weight gain, fluid retention and high blood pressure while long-term use can cause growth suppression, diabetes and muscle weakness. Antileukotrienes, like Singulair, help to decrease inflammation and the production of excess mucous that occurs when exposed to an allergen.
If you would like more information about the various treatment options or would like to sit down with one of our doctors to discuss which will work best for you, contact our office at 337-266-9820.