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.
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.
Sublingual (under the tongue) immunotherapy is an alternative way to treat allergies without injections. The only FDA-approved sublingual therapy is tablets. Allergy drops are not FDA-approved and are off-label in the United States.
Decongestants and antihistamines are the most common allergy medications. They help to reduce a stuffy nose, runny nose, sneezing and itching. Other medications work by preventing the release of the chemicals that cause allergic reactions. Corticosteroids are effective in treating inflammation in your nose.