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Overview

Immunotherapy is a preventive treatment for allergic reactions to substances such as grass pollens, house dust mites and bee venom. Immunotherapy involves giving gradually increasing doses of the substance, or allergen, to which the person is allergic. The incremental increases of the allergen cause the immune system to become less sensitive to the substance, probably by causing production of a "blocking" antibody, which reduces the symptoms of allergy when the substance is encountered in the future. Immunotherapy also reduces the inflammation that characterizes rhinitis and asthma.

Before starting treatment, the allergist and patient identify trigger factors for allergy symptoms. Skin or sometimes blood tests are performed to confirm the specific allergens to which the person has antibodies. Immunotherapy is usually recommended only if the person seems to be selectively sensitive to several allergens.

 

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Types of Immunotherapy

Allergy shots, also known as subcutaneous immunotherapy (SCIT), are the most commonly used and most effective form of allergy immunotherapy. This is the only treatment available that actually changes the immune system, making it possible to prevent the development of new allergies and asthma.

Allergy tablets are a form of sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) that offer a way to treat certain allergies without shots. Like shots, tablets reduce symptoms by helping the body build resistance to the effects of an allergen. Unlike shots, tablets only treat one type of allergen and do not prevent the development of new allergies and asthma. FDA-approved SLIT tablets are available to treat allergies to ragweed and grass pollen.

Allergy drops are another form of SLIT and work the same way as tablets. Drops are widely accepted and used in many countries around the world, but they have not been FDA approved in the U.S. and their usage is off-label.