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What is...allergy immunotherapy?

If you suffer from allergies to substances such as grass pollen, dust mites, and mold, one way to ease your symptoms is through allergy immunotherapy. Through this preventive treatment, you receive gradually larger doses of the allergen causing your problems, thereby building up immunities. Here’s more about it.

How does it work?

With incremental exposure of a given allergen, your immune system gradually adapts to the substance. Initially, doctors use skin and blood tests to pinpoint the specific allergens. Once the allergen is identified, treatment using allergy shots (known as subcutaneous immunotherapy or SCIT), can alleviate symptoms. SCIT treatment can also potentially change the immune system, preventing the development of new allergies.

Another approach uses tablets or drops (known as sublingual immunotherapy or SLIT), which also reduces symptoms. But, unlike SCIT, SLIT treats only ragweed or grass pollen, and doesn’t prevent the development of new allergies. While available in many other countries, this process has not yet received FDA approval in the U.S.

No matter what approach you try, your doctor should make sure you’re an appropriate candidate for immunotherapy. In some cases, like during a severe asthma episode, your physician may recommend against getting the treatments.

Fast facts

  • British physicians Leonard Noon and John Freeman discovered allergen immunotherapy in 1911
  • Allergy shots are given in two phases: a shot once or twice a week for about three to six months, followed by once or twice a month for several years
  • It takes three years for hay fever treatment to be more effective than a placebo, according to a recent study
  • Allergy shots for older patients reduced symptoms by 55 percent after three years of therapy, and decreased the amount of medication needed for relief of symptoms by 64 percent
  • Taking antihistamines has been shown to increase the effectiveness of treatments

Clear the air

Whether you’re considering allergy immunotherapy or another route to help your asthma and allergy symptoms, here are some helpful ways to clear the air in your home:

  • Fill your home with indoor plants that can improve indoor air quality
  • Wash bedding in hot water and don’t hang laundry outside to dry, since pollen can stick to fabric
  • Remove outdoor clothes before entering your home
  • Use a smart air purifier with a HEPA filter, like Coway Airmega, that can remove allergens from the air