What is allergen immunotherapy?
Allergies are caused by an overreaction of the immune system to innocuous substances or allergens, such as pollens, house dust mites, animal dander or venom allergen from insect stings (bees or wasps). Allergen immunotherapy is a treatment in which the allergen is given in order to suppress these unnecessary reactions.
What kind of immunotherapy is available?
Allergen immunotherapy is usually given by injections under the skin (subcutaneous immunotherapy). The injections are given weekly at the hospital for 2-3 months, followed by every 4-6 weeks for three years.Oral tablets dissolved under the tongue (sublingual immunotherapy) are also available for grass pollen allergy. The first dose of oral treatment needs to be taken under observation in the hospital followed by daily treatment at home.
What are side effects of treatment?
Both treatments may lead to local side effects, such as itchiness and swelling. Serious reactions, such as difficulty in breathing, faintness or sickness (anaphylaxis), are rare (approximately once in every 1,000 injections and even less often with tablets) and mostly occur within 30 minutes of the dose. A 60-minute observation period after each injection is obligatory.
How good is the response to treatment?
Most people respond very well to treatment with a reduction of symptoms and medication use. Not every allergic patient may be suitable for allergen immunotherapy and individual assessment is therefore crucial.
Treatment is mainly given for allergic rhinoconjunctivitis (including severe hay fever), and for life-threatening reactions to insect stings. Symptomatic treatment may still be required and patients with insect allergies should continue carrying an adrenaline injector device.