What is Immunotherapy?
Immunotherapy is any medical treatment that adjusts, manipulates or changes someone’s Immune system.
Is Immunotherapy used for Allergy patients?
Yes, for Allergy patients, we call it Allergen Immunotherapy (AIT for short). Patients are given some of the protein that they are allergic to. This “shifts” their immune response to make patients less allergic to those proteins. For example, if a patient is allergic to Oak Tree pollen, they would be given injections of increasing amounts of the protein in Oak Tree pollen.
Which allergy conditions are treated with Immunotherapy?
For patients with Allergic Rhinitis (hayfever) and Allergic Asthma, AIT has shown significant benefit. Studies have also been done for AIT in dust mite allergic patients for atopic dermatitis (eczema). Patients who have received AIT find an improvement in symptoms and some patients are able to reduce their medication requirements.
How do Allergy patients receive Immunotherapy?
Traditionally, AIT is administered in the form of an injection. This form is now referred to as SubCutaneous Immunotherapy (abbreviated SCIT).
There are now several allergens that are available to be taken orally--as a tablet. As of this writing in October 2015, Northern Grass Pollen and Ragweed Pollen are available for Oral Immunotherapy in the United States. Oral Immunotherapy is often abbreviated as SLIT (Sublingual Immunotherapy).
How long should a patient be on Immunotherapy?
Most patients who are on continuous AIT can discontinue it after 3-5 years. A portion of patients will have a relapse after stopping their allergy shots and may need a longer course. Oral immunotherapy is usually dosed just around the specific pollen season and so usually has to be repeated every year without an anticipated end.
What are the risks of Immunotherapy?
Because the patient is known to be allergic to these agents, the greatest risk is that of having an allergic reaction. See you Board Certified Allergist to have them help you work out the risk-to-benefit ratio for your immunotherapy. SCIT and SLIT have different side effect and risk/benefit profiles. Every patient has different.needs and so any plan should be customized to the individual patient.