From sneezing to itchy eyes, rashes or more severe symptoms, allergies can significantly disrupt our quality of life.
While allergy testing through skin prick tests has made allergy diagnosis much easier, what is the next step?
In most cases, this would involve allergen avoidance or symptomatic treatment. A pollen count tracker could for example help you take prophylactic treatment before heading out as well, but this is not a cure. However, advancements in medical science have brought hope in the form of immunotherapy. This is a treatment approach that’s becoming safer and more effective for curing allergies to certain substances.
Unlike traditional treatments that mainly offer temporary relief, immunotherapy for allergies targets the root cause of allergic reactions, offering a more holistic and long-lasting solution.
Have a read below to learn more about immunotherapy and what allergies this could help cure. If you have specific questions or want to book an appointment for allergy testing or immunotherapy at the clinic, please contact us.
Allergies occur when our immune system mistakenly identifies a typically harmless substance as a threat. This leads to a cascade of reactions inside our body, which ultimately causes symptoms like sneezing, itching, and even breathing difficulties.
These substances, known as allergens, can vary widely, from pollen and pet dander to certain foods and medications. The intensity of the reaction also varies from one person to another, giving rise to various symptoms.
Common symptoms of allergies
- Nasal congestion and runny nose
- Itchy, watery, reddened eyes
- Skin rashes, hives or urticaria
- Digestive issues, in the case of food allergies
- Systemic swelling and inflammation in the case of more serious reactions.
But why do some people suffer from allergies while others don’t? Well, the determinant of whether you are allergic to something is a combination of both genetic predisposition and environmental factors.
What is Immunotherapy?
Immunotherapy is a relatively new way of managing allergies. It represents a paradigm shift in the treatment process. Unlike conventional methods that temporarily alleviate symptoms, immunotherapy aims to retrain your immune system to tolerate allergens, reducing or even eliminating allergic reactions over time.
How does Immunotherapy work?
During immunotherapy, your body is exposed to small, controlled doses of the allergen, either through injections, sublingual drops, or tablets.
This controlled, gradual exposure over months or even years, can help your immune system become accustomed to the allergen. The ultimate aim is to decrease its sensitivity and reaction to it.
If successful, over time, this can lead to your immune system no longer responding as strongly to the allergen. This means a significant reduction in allergy symptoms and the need for medications.
Types of Immunotherapy for Allergies
The two most common types of immunotherapy are:
- Subcutaneous Immunotherapy (SCIT) and
- Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT)
Subcutaneous Immunotherapy (SCIT)
This takes the form of allergy shots on a regular basis. This form of immunotherapy has been well studied and used for decades. It can be very effective for bee and wasp allergies, but also pollen, dust mites, and pet dander.
Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT)
SLIT is a newer method of immunotherapy for allergies. Small fixed amounts of allergen are administered in the form of tablets or drops under the tongue. This method is increasingly popular for its convenience and safety, especially for patients who want to avoid injections or have busy schedules.
SCIT vs SLIT Comparison
|SCIT (Allergy Shots)
|Injections with allergen under the skin
|Drops or tablets under the tongue
|Broad range, including airborne and insect allergens
|Selected airborne allergens, primarily grass or other pollens
|At a clinic or hospital
|At home after the initial dose in clinic
|Higher risk of reactions, requires medical supervision in a clinical environment
|Safer, fewer reactions if first dose tolerated well
|Regular allergy clinic visits
|Self-administered at home with occasional follow ups to monitor progress
Each type of immunotherapy for allergies has its pros and cons. If you think you might want to start curing your allergies, please get in touch and we can discuss the options with you.
Benefits of Immunotherapy
If you’ve been suffering from allergies all your life, the benefits of immunotherapy can be priceless.
Long Term Relief
Unlike medications that offer temporary respite, immunotherapy can modify the immune system’s response. This could lead to a prolonged or even permanent symptom reduction. Long term relief of allergies is the most common reason someone might want to undergo immunotherapy.
As you have less symptoms following a successful immunotherapy course, this could massively increase your quality of life.
Reduced Medication Use
If you are trying to cut down on the number of medications, immunotherapy could also be an option for you. As your body becomes less reactive to allergens, you may find a decreased need for daily allergy medications, which not only simplifies your routine but also reduces the potential side effects associated with long-term medication use.
Proactive Prevention of New Allergies and Asthma
Some studies have shown that immunotherapy can prevent the development of new allergies, and in children, the development of asthma. This preventive aspect is a game-changer, offering a proactive approach to allergy management.
Side effects and time commitment
Most side effects are mild and may include irritation at the injection site for SCIT or oral itching and discomfort for SLIT. However, there is always a small risk of more severe allergic reactions. This underscores the importance of undergoing treatment under medical supervision for SCIT and for the first dose of SLIT immunotherapy.
Immunotherapy is also a long-term commitment, often spanning several years. It’s not suitable for everyone, particularly those with certain heart conditions, severe asthma, or who are taking specific medications.
Should I have immunotherapy done privately or on the NHS?
The immunotherapy process is largely similar whether you have it done privately or on the NHS. The same type of medication is usually used, however the difference is the waiting times. On the NHS there may be a significant waiting time and you may have to travel longer distances as not all hospitals offer this service.
Privately, of course, the appointments and commencing the treatment can be done much quicker.
By addressing the root cause of allergies, immunotherapy stands as a wonderful advancement in holistic allergy management. While immunotherapy is effective and well tolerated in the majority of cases, you must be committed to it over a period of several years.
As the first step, if you would like to consider immunotherapy, consult with an allergy specialist to determine if immunotherapy is a safe and effective option for you. Before starting the immunotherapy treatment, you are likely to require a skin prick allergy test and maybe even a blood test to quantify the severity of your allergy. Get in touch with us and we would be happy to advise you.