What is Allergy Immunotherapy, and How Does It Work?

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What is Allergy Immunotherapy, and How Does It Work

Dealing with allergies is no fun. It can be a frustrating and challenging problem to deal with, especially when experiencing serious or more prominent symptoms. While various treatments are available that help minimize the symptoms, including decongestants, antihistamines, and corticosteroids, they fail to address the root problem: the allergy.

Unlike these treatments, allergy immunotherapy focuses on the allergy itself, skipping over the symptoms to work on the root cause. So, what is allergy immunotherapy and how does it focus on the allergy to help you find relief? This article explores the basics of allergies, allergy immunotherapy, and how it works to help you decide if it’s the right fit for your needs. 


Defining an Allergy

To understand immunotherapy for allergies and how it works, it’s important to have a baseline understanding of what an allergy is. Simply put, an allergy is a reaction in the body to a foreign substance called an allergen.

Your immune system crafts substances called antibodies, blood proteins that counteract a specific antigen. These antibodies flag the allergen as harmful, even though it isn’t. So, when your body comes in contact with an allergen, such as pet dander, these antibodies communicate with cells that release chemicals, creating allergic symptoms. 

These symptoms can range in severity, with some symptoms as mild as a runny nose and others as severe as anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that can be life-threatening. 

Understanding Allergy Immunotherapy

Allergy immunotherapy (AIT) is a treatment that addresses the root cause of the problem: the allergy. Unlike traditional allergy treatments, which focus on the symptoms, this treatment steers the focus to the allergen and your body’s immune response.

Types of Allergy Immunotherapy

AIT comes in two primary categories: subcutaneous immunotherapy (SCIT) and sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT). Subcutaneous immunotherapy is administered under the skin via an injection. It’s the most common approach used in AIT and has been proven highly effective by numerous studies. 

Sublingual immunotherapy is administered under the tongue in the form of tablets or drops. Allergy drops aren’t FDA-approved, but they’re still effective and widely used to treat various allergies. Tablets are FDA-approved, but the options are limited to a handful of allergens, such as northern pasture grasses. Both options are an excellent alternative to injectable doses of the allergen. 

How Does Allergy Immunotherapy Work?

Allergy immunotherapy works by focusing on the allergy, not the symptoms. It helps “train” your body to reduce its sensitivity to a particular allergen by reducing the production of “blocking” antibodies that create the symptoms. To achieve this result, the treatment employs tablets, drops, or injections containing small doses of the allergen. 

The dose of the allergen increases incrementally over time, slowly reducing the immune system’s sensitivity. The process takes time, often requiring a long-term commitment to enjoy the full scope of the results. Most people notice the results within the first year, but the best results usually take form in years two and three. 

Is Allergy Immunotherapy Effective?

Allergy immunotherapy is far from the newest treatment on the allergy scene. It’s been around for over a century, and we have to go all the way back to 1911 to find its origins. It was introduced in 1911 by Leonard Noon and John Freeman as allergen desensitization or hypo-sensitization. 

Over the years, countless researchers and healthcare professionals evaluated the ins and outs of this treatment option, delving into the specifics and uncovering its remarkable efficacy. Today, there’s an abundance of AIT research that proves its efficacy. 

One such study evaluated AIT-treated subjects compared to control subjects, finding that the former was consistently associated with more notable reductions in allergic rhinitis and asthma prescriptions than the latter. This same study found that the AIT group also had a higher chance of stepping down asthma treatment. 

Dozens of research and clinical trials further bolster these claims, attesting to the efficacy through various research approaches. Some trials demonstrate SCIT’s efficacy in achieving an allergen-specific tolerance that offers clinical benefits for years beyond discontinuation, while others focus on SLIT. 

If you want to learn more about AIT, explore the abundant research available online and in various books. There’s plenty of research displaying the intriguing history and efficacy of this treatment. Or, talk to your allergist or healthcare provider for personalized input based on your allergies and health history.

Closing Thoughts

Allergy immunotherapy is a highly effective treatment option that focuses on addressing the root cause of allergies rather than just the symptoms. It employs tablets, drops, or injections containing small doses of the allergen to help “train” the body to reduce its sensitivity to a particular allergen. 

While it takes time to achieve the full scope of the results, the efficacy of this treatment option is backed by many studies and clinical trials. If you’re struggling with allergies and looking for a long-term solution, allergy immunotherapy may be worth considering. Talk to your allergist or healthcare provider to learn more about whether this treatment is a good fit for your needs.

About the Author

Jared Levenson is a former binge eating wrestler turned Zen Buddhist Monk, Internal Family Systems counselor and nutrition wellness coach. He's helped hundreds of people through universal meal principles and internal family systems to make peace with food, stop binge eating, and find true health and wholeness.


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