Allergies affect millions of people around the world, causing a range of symptoms from sneezing and runny nose to more severe reactions. While medications can provide relief, they often address the symptoms rather than the root cause. Immunotherapy, a treatment that alters the body’s immune response to allergens, offers an alternative approach. In this article, we’ll explore the role of immunotherapy in treating allergies, how it works, and its potential benefits.
Allergies occur when the immune system responds to normally harmless substances as if they were dangerous invaders. This overactive immune response leads to allergy symptoms, which can vary from mild to severe. Common allergens include pollen, dust mites, pet dander, mold, and certain foods.
Traditional Allergy Treatments
Traditional allergy treatments primarily involve managing symptoms. They include:
Antihistamines: These medications block the effects of histamines, which are chemicals released during an allergic reaction.
Decongestants: Decongestants help relieve nasal congestion and sinus pressure.
Corticosteroids: These anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce inflammation and relieve allergy symptoms.
Allergen Avoidance: Minimizing exposure to allergens is a key strategy, but it’s not always practical or effective.
While these treatments can be effective in providing temporary relief, they do not address the underlying cause of allergies – the immune system’s response to allergens.
Immunotherapy: A Different Approach
Immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots or allergy desensitization, takes a different approach. It works by altering the body’s immune response to allergens. The treatment involves administering gradually increasing doses of allergens to the patient. Over time, the immune system becomes desensitized to these allergens, reducing or eliminating allergic reactions.
How Immunotherapy Works
Identification of Allergens: Before starting immunotherapy, a healthcare professional will identify the specific allergens triggering a patient’s allergic reactions. This is typically done through allergy testing.
Customized Treatment: Based on the allergens identified, a personalized immunotherapy plan is developed.
Allergen Exposure: The patient is exposed to tiny amounts of the allergens through regular injections (subcutaneous immunotherapy) or under-the-tongue tablets (sublingual immunotherapy).
Gradual Increase: The dosage of allergens gradually increases over time. This helps the immune system become less responsive to the allergens.
Maintenance Phase: Once the optimal dose is reached, the patient enters a maintenance phase, receiving periodic treatments to maintain the desensitization effect.
Benefits of Immunotherapy
Immunotherapy offers several potential benefits:
Long-Term Relief: Unlike medications that provide temporary relief, immunotherapy can lead to long-lasting or even permanent relief from allergy symptoms.
Reduced Medication Dependence: Patients may require fewer allergy medications or lower doses as their symptoms improve.
Prevent Allergies from Worsening: Immunotherapy may prevent allergies from progressing to more severe conditions like asthma.
Improved Quality of Life: Allergy sufferers can enjoy an improved quality of life, with fewer symptoms and the ability to engage in outdoor activities without constant worry.
Treatment of Underlying Cause: Immunotherapy addresses the root cause of allergies, the immune system’s response to allergens.
Immunotherapy plays a crucial role in treating allergies by modifying the immune system’s response to allergens. This treatment offers long-term relief, reduces medication dependence, and can prevent allergies from worsening. If you suffer from allergies, contact an allergist to determine if immunotherapy is a suitable option for you.