Allergy News & Information Blog
A Beginner's Guide to Starting Immunotherapy for Allergies
It’s estimated that, in the United States, 30% of adults and 40% of children suffer from allergies. Around 200,000 people visit the ER annually for allergic reactions to food alone. How can allergies be combated to make life safer for such patients?
The ear, nose, and throat specialists at ENT of New Orleans, with offices in Chalmette, Harvey, New Orleans, and Marrero, Louisiana, can help pinpoint specific allergies and recommend immunotherapy, if appropriate.
An introduction to immunotherapy
Most people when confronted with the term ‘immunotherapy’ think of cancer treatment. This is a common practice for oncological patients, whose own immune systems can be one of their strongest defenses against invasive cancer cells.
However, allergists also use a form of immunotherapy that utilizes allergy shots in an effort to desensitize your immune system to specific allergens. By using a very tiny amount of the allergen, your doctor can provoke a healthy but safe immune response that becomes smaller and smaller over time.
If you’re allergic to certain foods, you may not always be able to avoid trace amounts. Likewise, if you’re allergic to environmental factors such as house dust, insect venom, pet dander, or pollen, avoidance can prove impossible unless you live inside a plastic bubble.
Allergy immunotherapy won’t cause a full-scale allergic reaction. Instead, it’s carefully administered under the guidance of your doctor, allowing your immune system to engage with small amounts of the allergen and slowly increasing your tolerance until you can withstand a full dose without danger.
Benefits of immunotherapy
Allergies can have a significant negative impact on your daily life or the life of your child. Common challenges include having to vacuum and dust almost constantly, being unable to visit other people’s houses, refraining from owning a pet, and having to take antihistamines constantly, which can cause drowsiness.
Children and adults who have asthma can find their condition is made much worse by allergies, and those with certain food allergies may need to carry a special pen full of injectable medication to open their airway if they’re exposed to an allergen and go into respiratory distress.
Immunotherapy offers a chance for life without so many restrictions and constant precautions. Allergy shots can slowly build your resistance, leading to the following life benefits:
- Decreased allergy symptoms (runny or stuffy nose, itchy eyes, sinus headaches)
- Reduced need for antihistamines and rescue medications
- Fewer and less severe asthma attacks
- More freedom to explore the world and indulge in pet ownership
- Decreased reactions to potentially fatal allergens like insect venoms or certain foods
Immunotherapy can literally save your life or the life of your child simply by slowing a severe reaction and allowing time to get medical help.
Step one to starting immunotherapy is constructing a complete allergy profile. You may know what some of your allergens are, but we build a comprehensive profile by testing for a vast range of allergens through a skin test.
The skin test involves a grid traced on your back. Each square is numbered, and a tiny amount of a different allergen is applied to each square. Reactions show if there’s an allergy and how severe it is.
Some squares may show no reaction, showing no allergy. Some may show a mild redness, showing a sensitivity. Finally, some squares may show a red welt or large area of swelling, indicating a more severe allergy.
We do this diagnostic test onsite, and there are medical professionals trained for emergencies standing by in case a tiny dose of an allergen causes a rare, unexpectedly severe reaction.
Step two of immunotherapy is selecting either sublingual drops or injections. Allergy shots are done in our office at intervals, so some people prefer them, as they don’t have to remember to take oral medication every day. However, sublingual drops don’t hurt and can be administered at home, making them a better choice for some parents who are treating their children.
Immunotherapy isn’t a quick fix. It can take months before results really start to take effect, and you’ll have to keep on with your treatment to maintain your body’s appropriate immune response. However, it’s worth it to stop living in discomfort and/or fear.
To learn more about allergy immunotherapy and discover if it could be a viable option for you, schedule a consultation with the team at ENT of New Orleans by calling the location closest to you or requesting an appointment online.