Overview of Allergy Immunology
One of the most common ways to treat allergies is through immunotherapy. Immunotherapy can be administered in two ways. Allergy shots, or subcutaneous immunotherapy (SCIT), is administered in the arm. Allergy drops, or sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT), are given in doses under the tongue. There are a few reasons why someone would choose one treatment over the other. Immunotherapy can help a variety of allergens, such as ragweed, pollen, mold, trees, grass, animals, and dust mites.
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Why Choose Immunology?
Immunotherapy is a good choice for people who have a difficult time controlling their allergies. This may also be helpful for people who want to quit using allergy medications or cannot seem to avoid their allergens. Some allergy medications may interact with other medications or they may have some bad side effects. Immunotherapy is a great way for people to feel better without fear of an allergic reaction that they cannot control.
Through immunotherapy, your allergy symptoms will not disappear immediately. It will take years of treatment, but after a couple of years of treatment, people can expect to see a lasting benefit from the treatment even after it is discontinued.
Risks with Immunology
There are some risks associated with immunotherapy. The most serious reactions will occur when a dose of immunotherapy is missed. If you get your shots or drops regularly, then you will be less likely to have a serious reaction. Local reactions are very common. They will usually occur right after treatment and will clear up within 24 hours. This usually includes redness, swelling, or irritation at the site. Some other reactions that are less common include: sneezing, hives, or congestion. In severe cases, you may experience wheezing, chest tightness, throat swelling, or anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening reaction to allergy drops or shots. This will usually happen within thirty minutes of the injection. Since the doses of the allergen are increased in small, incremental doses, these reactions are not as common. However, this is why your physician will require you to stay in the office after the injection.
The First Step to Immunology
The first step to immunotherapy and feeling better is to find out what you are allergic to. You may have an idea, but through an allergy skin test, your physician will be able to properly diagnose your allergy. During an allergy skin test, extracts of the various allergens are applied topically and then observed to watch for reactions. This is often paired with a physical examination, where your allergist will also ask about your medical history and past allergic reactions. The information that is taken from this test will allow your physician to create a treatment plan. A treatment plan may consist of an avoidance plan, medication list, and immunotherapy.
Allergy shots are given in the physician’s office to ensure there are no adverse effects. A small dose of the allergen is administered under the skin of the arm. After the shot has been administered, then your physician will require that you wait for 30 minutes before you leave. These shots are usually administered once a week for several months, and then it will decrease to once every two weeks and then once a month. The goal of the allergy shots are to make your body used to the allergen so that once you are around the allergen in the world your body will not react.
Allergy shots are usually administered in two phases. The buildup phase is usually up to six months. During this phase, the allergen dose is increased with each shot. The maintenance phase occurs after the buildup phase and usually lasts for up to five years, depending on your reactions.
Advantages and Risks of Allergy Shots
Typically, people will notice an improvement within three months of allergy shots. Within five years of treatment, people no longer feel the side effects of the allergen. The risks of allergy shots are low. There is a chance of an allergic reaction, but that is why they are typically given in an allergist’s office. If you are at high risk for an allergic reaction, the allergist may recommend that you take an antihistamine before the injection. The most common reactions to allergy shots are hives, congestion, sneezing, and redness at the injection area. Anaphylaxis may occur in some rare cases. You will be asked to bring your EpiPen and wait for 30 minutes after the shot.
What to Expect from Allergy Shots
For two hours before and two hours after the appointment, you will want to avoid any strenuous work, such as exercising. Before you begin taking allergy shots, you will want to let your allergist know about any medications or supplements that you are taking. In some cases, medications and supplements will interfere with the progress of allergy shots. The goal of allergy shots is to get the body accustomed to the allergen so that there will be no more side effects from the allergen in your daily life. You will typically notice improvements during the build-up phase of the injections.
Allergy drops are given under the tongue and can usually be administered at home. The dose will increase until the body is accustomed to the allergen. Most people will choose allergy drops if they are not able to come to the office regularly for shots. Allergy drops are also less painful and very easy to administer. There is rarely a reaction to allergy drops.
Advantages and Risks of Allergy Drops
People that suffer from allergies can greatly benefit from allergy drops. This is especially true for those people that do not respond well to allergy shots. People will also choose allergy drops because of fewer office visits, and less medication, and they are able to get to their maintenance dose faster. There are rarely risks with allergy drops, but you will be given an epinephrine injector in case of a severe reaction and your allergist will teach you when and how to use it.