Have you tried dealing with your allergies by taking lots of over-the-counter medications and found that nothing gets you the relief you need? If you want to get long-term allergy relief instead of masking your symptoms, it’s time to consider immunotherapy.
There are two forms of immunotherapy, subcutaneous and sublingual. Subcutaneous immunotherapy, commonly known as allergy shots, is the most common. With this type of therapy, you receive injections over several years. Your doctor increases the dosage over time until you reach a maintenance level. Allergy shots are given in your allergist’s office, typically once a week for the first few months, then every two to four weeks.
Sublingual immunotherapy is an alternative form of immunotherapy and comes in two forms: allergy drops and allergy tablets. With this treatment, you place drops or tablets of allergen extract under your tongue. The dosage is increased over time until you reach a maintenance level. Unlike allergy shots, you can self-administer sublingual immunotherapy at home.
What Causes Allergies?
Allergies result from an overreaction of the immune system to a foreign substance like pollen, pet hair, mold, or dust. When these allergens come into contact with the body, the immune system releases chemicals like histamine that cause allergy symptoms.
Allergy symptoms can vary from person to person and range from mild to severe. Common symptoms include sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, nasal congestion, wheezing, coughing, skin rash, or, in severe situations, anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is an intense, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that can cause difficulty breathing, swelling of the throat, and a drop in blood pressure.
What Is Allergy Immunotherapy?
Allergy immunotherapy is a method of treatment that involves gradually exposing your body to an increasing level of an allergen to help you build up immunity and tolerance. By building up resistance to your allergies you can eliminate the uncomfortable allergy symptoms you experience during allergy season.
The length of time it takes for immunotherapy to work depends on the type of therapy you receive and the doctor you are working with. For shots, it can take anywhere from several weeks to several months to see results. Patients taking sublingual immunotherapy can start seeing initial relief within 4 weeks to 4 months, and the process is less invasive.
What Types of Allergies Can Immunotherapy Treat?
The most common allergies people seek treatment for are those triggered by airborne allergies, such as allergies to pollen, pet dander, mold, and dust mites. Currently, immunotherapy isn’t used for food allergies due to the increased risk of anaphylaxis.
How Safe Is Immunotherapy?
Both forms of immunotherapy are considered safe. The most common side effects are mild and include itchiness, redness, swelling at the injection site, or irritation in the mouth from the tablets. While both forms of immunotherapy are safe, more severe side effects can occur for allergy shots. Allergy shots also pose the risk of anaphylaxis, which is why you must be closely monitored at a doctor’s office for 30 minutes after receiving an injection.
What Are the Benefits of Allergy Shots?
The biggest con of subcutaneous allergy therapy is the need to have a shot itself. Still, there are a few potential pros to allergy shots. Because the allergen is injected just under the skin, it has a direct route to the immune system, which could result in a slightly faster build-up of immunity.
Allergy shots and allergy drops can also target multiple allergies at once, while allergy tablets only treat one allergen at a time. Targeting multiple allergens is especially beneficial for hay fever sufferers who can be allergic to numerous types of pollen throughout the season.
What Are the Benefits of Sublingual Immunotherapy?
Allergy drops and allergy tablets are taken orally, whereas allergy shots are given by injection. A specially trained technician must provide the injections, and allergy shots must be administered in a doctor's office. With the post-shot waiting time, the whole process can take up to an hour or more out of your day. By comparison, sublingual immunotherapy can be administered at home, saving you the time and hassle of going to the doctor's office.
Sublingual immunotherapy is also great for those who have a fear of needles. Even for those without a phobia of injections, getting frequent shots can be uncomfortable or painful, especially week after week.
While allergy tablets only treat one allergy at a time, allergy drops can still target multiple allergies just like allergy shots. If you have multiple allergies, you might want to choose allergy drops instead of allergy tablets.
Immunotherapy Changes the Way Your Immune System Reacts to Allergens
It's true. With regular therapy, allergy shots and drops have the potential to change how your immune system responds to an allergen. Gradual exposure to an allergen retrains the immune system and desensitizes it.
With continued therapy, many allergy sufferers who have received immunotherapy no longer need to take medications to control their symptoms.
Finding Your Maintenance Dose
When getting immunotherapy, you will not be on an ever-increasing dose of your allergen. Your allergist determines your maintenance dose — the amount you need to see a reduction in symptoms. As long as you remain in treatment, your dosage stabilizes.
Once you reach the maintenance phase, shots and drops are given less frequently, until you no longer need them.
Shots or Drops - Which Is Right for You?
Allergy shots and allergy drops both have pros and cons, but the choice ultimately comes down to personal preference. If you have concerns about getting shots but want to begin treating your allergies, consider sublingual immunotherapy. They are comparatively cheaper, easy to obtain, and allow you to administer them yourself from the comfort of home.
Take Wyndly’s two-minute assessment today to see if you’re a candidate for sublingual immunotherapy and be one step closer to living an allergy-free life!