Immunotherapy is a process through which an allergic patient is desensitized to those pollens and inhalants that trigger allergic rhinitis (Hay fever), allergic conjunctivitis, asthma and insect reactions.
When someone has an allergy they have high levels of the allergic antibody Immunoglobulin E (IgE) in their blood. This IgE is activated by the allergen (dust mites, ragweed, cat, etc), and it attaches itself to “mast” cells that release histamine. The histamine produces symptoms.
With immunotherapy, protective antibody Immunoglobulin G (IgG) is formed. This does not attach to mast cells and thus no histamine is released and no allergic symptoms appear. These protective antibodies are similar to those made in response to Vaccine.
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In immunotherapy small doses of the actual allergic substance are injected biweekly atleast for the first four months. Then the interval of the allergy shots is increased to weekly for a few months and then bi-monthly to monthly eventually. Initially, in each visit the dose of allergens is increased gradually till the maintenance dose is reached.
Length of Treatment
The change induced by immunotherapy is gradual. Many patients notice an improvement within four to six months at which time the patient should schedule a 6-month evaluation appointment. If the immunotherapy is helping then it is continued further otherwise it is stopped. It does not work in about 5 -10% of patients who were correctly diagnosed as having significant allergies. At year 4 or 5 a trial of discontinuing treatment should be attempted.
Qualification for Testing
Immunotherapy is reserved for patients who have significant hay fever (Allergic Rhinitis). It is also helpful for asthma, conjunctivitis, frequent sinusitis and insect allergy (Bees). Immunotherapy is not recommended for mild allergies or for food allergies. It is also not useful for less well-defined areas such as hives, intestinal and emotional problems, arthritis, and headaches unrelated to sinus problems.
Immunotherapy and Pregnancy
Allergy shots are usually not started for women during pregnancy, though there is no medical reason not to do so. If a woman has been receiving immunotherapy and becomes pregnant, she may safely continue the shots during the pregnancy without increasing the dose. Immunotherapy has been used for over 75 years and does not harm the baby.