What is Immunotherapy and Can it Cure My Allergies?

Allergies rank as the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the United States, affecting more than 50 million Americans. Because the prevalence of allergies is also constantly on the rise, an ever-increasing number of people can expect to develop them with each passing year.

Here at South Louisiana Ear, Nose, & Throat (SLENT) in Mandeville, Hammond, and Slidell, Louisiana, our talented team of otolaryngologists is proud to offer innovative immunotherapy treatments, a safe and highly effective way to boost your tolerance to irritating allergens, reduce the likelihood of a serious reaction, and even put an end to your symptoms altogether. Here’s how it works. 

Traditional allergy management

Allergies emerge when your immune system erroneously overreacts to a normally innocuous substance like pollen, dust, mold spores, or animal dander, triggering the release of chemicals called histamines in a faulty attempt to shield and protect your body.  

Some people develop allergies early on in life, during their infancy or childhood, while others develop them much later — even elderly adults can develop a new allergy after a lifetime of being allergy-free. Many people who have allergies have more than one type.  

While there’s no way to stop most allergies from developing, the right management plan can help you reduce your risk of having a reaction and provide fast symptom relief when you do come in contact with an allergen. 

Traditional allergy management solutions focus on avoidance (staying away from known allergens) and symptom relief (taking antihistamines, decongestants, or other medications to counteract a reaction). 

Immunotherapy allergy management  

Immunotherapy is an advanced allergy management approach that aims to increase your tolerance to the substances you’re allergic to until you no longer experience symptoms. 

It’s considered a long-term solution because it takes time to build up your body’s resistance against an allergen, but once you’re desensitized, you won’t have to worry about having a severe reaction — or any reaction at all — to that particular allergen.  

Immunotherapy can be used to lessen or resolve symptoms of seasonal allergies like pollen and ragweed, indoor allergies like dust mites and animal dander, and stinging insect allergies. There are two forms of immunotherapy, both of which alter your body’s response to an allergen over time:

Allergy shots 

Also known as desensitization injections, allergy shots work much like vaccinations. Each shot contains a tiny amount of the allergen that triggers your symptoms — just enough to stimulate your immune system, but not enough to prompt a major reaction.

During the buildup phase, which lasts for three to six months, you receive injections in your upper arm one to three times per week. The allergen dose is increased slightly with each injection to ramp up your body’s tolerance as safely and efficiently as possible. 

Next, you enter the maintenance phase, an ongoing period of treatment that usually lasts three to five years (or longer), depending on your needs. During this time, you receive an allergy shot once a month to help your body maintain its newfound tolerance.  

Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) 

Also known as allergy drops, SLIT uses a prescription liquid medication that matches your “allergic fingerprint” to help your body gradually increase its tolerance to the substances that trigger your environmental, indoor, or insect allergies.  

SLIT works in much the same way as allergy shots. But instead of being administered through an injection, the antigens used in SLIT are placed in your mouth to dissolve, where they’re quickly absorbed by the dendritic cells located underneath your tongue. 

The area beneath your tongue holds the greatest number of dendritic cells in your entire body. The main function of these specialized cells is to deliver antigens to the immune system cells that are responsible for improving your tolerance to allergens.  

When your dendritic cells are routinely bathed in a custom-made solution of allergy drops that addresses your unique blend of allergies and level of sensitivity, your body steadily increases its tolerance to the substances that cause your allergic reactions.

Like allergy shots, SLIT has a buildup phase and a maintenance phase; unlike allergy shots, SLIT is an at-home treatment that doesn’t require routine office visits. 

Consistent, long-lasting allergy relief

Allergies may be chronic and incurable, but for a significant number of people, immunotherapy offers a high level of symptom relief that comes close to feeling like a cure. 

It’s important to note, however, that even though many people no longer experience symptoms once they’re done with the maintenance phase of their immunotherapy program, some people need to continue the treatment indefinitely to keep their symptoms well-controlled. 

To find out how allergy immunotherapy can benefit you, call your nearest SLENT office in Mandeville, Hammond, or Slidell, Louisiana today, contact one of our three offices for a visit with one of our top-rated otolaryngologists any time. 

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