Allergen Immunotherapy

Allergen immunotherapy is a treatment that involves exposing the patient to small, increasing doses of an allergen in order to build up tolerance. In many cases, it will lessen allergy symptoms and the need for medications, reduce days off from work and school due to illness, and improve school performance in allergic children. For those with allergic asthma, it can also improve asthma symptoms.

Allergen immunotherapy can greatly reduce your sensitivity to airborne allergens such as mold, dust mites, pollen and animal dander, and it is highly effective against insect venom. However, the success rate does vary from person to person. At this time, there is no proven immunotherapy for medication or food allergies, although researchers are working hard on it.

Allergy shots (subcutaneous immunotherapy, or SCIT) are the most familiar form of immunotherapy in the U.S. and their long history of proven effectiveness make them the mainstay of allergen immunotherapy.

In 2014, the Food and Drug Administration approved under-the-tongue immunotherapy (sublingual immunotherapy, or SLIT) tablets to treat some grass and weed allergies.

Physicians and researchers are also now testing under-the-tongue drops and oral immunotherapy, but these are still very experimental in the U.S. Concentrated allergen extracts for drop therapy have not been approved yet in the U.S., but some physicians are taking extracts manufactured and approved for allergy shots and using them as drops instead. This off-label use is not reimbursed by insurance companies. If you are receiving drop therapy with insurance coverage, it could be fraud. Check your medical billing to confirm accuracy.

Am I a candidate for allergen immunotherapy?

If you’re considering immunotherapy of any type, don’t be fooled by deceptive third-party allergy testing and immunotherapy being offered by allergy technicians in some primary care practices. Consult a board-certified allergist who will take a full physical, family and allergy history, select and conduct allergy testing, interpret results and supervise immunotherapy.

Talk with your allergist about how your allergy symptoms affect your activities and health, then consider whether immunotherapy might help more than allergen avoidance and/or medications.

Use the following questions to help guide you with your decision:

  • Have reliable allergy tests identified that you are allergic to an allergen that can be successfully treated with immunotherapy?
  • Is the allergen one that is difficult to avoid exposure to in everyday life?
  • Do your symptoms consistently interfere with daily activities?
  • Have your symptoms been difficult to control with allergy medications?
  • Do you have related conditions such as eczema, sinusitis, or asthma that complicate your allergies?
  • Are you able to commit to the immunotherapy schedule?

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Read more:

Ask the Allergist: Immunotherapy Options