Immunotherapy is a method of allergy treatment that involves introducing small amounts of allergen to your body and then gradually building up doses over a period of time until you develop an immunity.
There are two types of immunotherapy treatments: subcutaneous immunotherapy (SCIT), also known as allergy shots, and sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT), or allergy drops.
Individuals with allergy symptoms that do not respond to medical treatment are prime candidates for immunotherapy. Once the allergen trigger has been identified, an extract of that substance is prepared. The delivery method depends on which type of immunotherapy treatment you are receiving.
What Are Allergy Shots?
If you opt for allergy shots, you are given small injections in the upper arm once or twice a week until a maintenance dose is reached. The frequency is gradually reduced over a period of several months, until you are receiving shots about once a month. It takes three to five years for your body to build up a tolerance to the allergen, so treatment is a long-term commitment.
What Is Sublingual Immunotherapy?
Sublingual immunotherapy works on the same principle, but instead of allergy shots, you are given drops that you place under your tongue for several minutes and then swallow. This is usually done on a daily basis and, like allergy shots, results take anywhere from three to five years.
Sublingual immunotherapy is currently only FDA approved for environmental allergies but has several advantages over allergy shots, namely the ability to self-administer at home and a lower risk of side effects and allergic reactions.
Is Immunotherapy Safe?
Both forms of immunotherapy are considered safe and effective long-term treatments for a number of allergies. Immunotherapy is most effective for those allergic to pollen, mold, dust mites, animal dander and insect venom. It will not work for food or drug allergies.
Side effects and complications are rare. Those receiving allergy shots might notice a little redness, swelling and tenderness at the injection site. Maintaining a consistent injection schedule helps to reduce the odds of serious reactions.
Allergy symptoms can often be relieved through the use of over-the-counter or prescription medications and nasal sprays. Medical therapy provides short-term relief and may be enough of a solution for people with seasonal allergies or those whose symptoms are not severe.
If your symptoms do not improve with the use of medications, you should consult with an allergist over alternative treatments such as immunotherapy.
How Do Antihistamines Help Allergies?
Antihistamines are often the go-to drug for treating allergy symptoms. They work by reducing or blocking histamines, chemicals produced by the immune system that are responsible for many common allergy symptoms including runny nose, stuffy nose and itchy, watery eyes.
They are available in tablets, capsules, liquids, nasal sprays and eye drops. Antihistamines can cause side effects such as drowsiness, dry mouth, dizziness and nausea, though newer generation antihistamines have fewer side effects. Popular antihistamines include:
How Do Decongestants Help Allergies?
When your allergy symptoms include a stuffed-up nose, you’re better off using a decongestant for relief. Decongestants shrink swollen blood vessels and tissues that line the nose. They can be found in pills, liquids, nasal sprays and nose drops and are available over-the-counter or by prescription.
Decongestants may increase anxiety or cause sleeping difficulty. If you have a medical condition such as glaucoma, high blood pressure, heart disease, thyroid disorder, diabetes or enlarged prostate, consult with a doctor before using. Common decongestants include:
In addition, many antihistamines also contain a decongestant, such as:
How Do Nasal Corticosteroids Help Allergies?
Nasal corticosteroids are nasal sprays that help to reduce inflammation of the nasal lining associated with allergies. They can be extremely effective at relieving symptoms, but may cause nosebleeds, nasal dryness and sore throat. Nasal corticosteroids are generally safe to use long-term. They are usually available by prescription only. Common brands include:
How Do Decongestant Nasal Sprays Help Allergies?
Decongestant nasal sprays are generally available over-the-counter. They provide short-term relief from nasal allergy symptoms but wear off quickly. Overuse can lead to a “rebound effect” in which symptoms worsen. Patients are advised not to use decongestant nasal sprays for longer than three days. Popular brands include:
- Vicks Sinex.
How Do Allergy Eye Drops Help Allergies?
Allergy eye drops help relieve the symptoms of eye allergies. If you are experiencing itchy or watery eyes, a burning sensation in the eyes, redness and swelling, you can benefit from either over-the-counter or prescription eye drops.
They are available in several different types including antihistamines, anti-inflammatory, decongestants and mast cell stabilizers. Some of the more common brands include:
- Clear Eyes.
- Claritin Eye.
How Do Mast Cell Inhibitors Help Allergies?
Mast cell inhibitors are medications that prevent allergy symptoms such as runny nose or itchy, watery eyes from occurring. They work by inhibiting the release of histamines the immune system produces in response to allergens such as pollen.
They are available in the form of nasal sprays and eye drops, and must be taken a week or two before the start of allergy season, and continued on a daily basis for the duration of the season.
Non-pharmacologic therapy refers to treatment that does not involve medicine. Allergy sufferers have several options for drug-free treatment of their symptoms, depending on the allergen triggers.
The best treatment for your allergies is avoidance. While medications will help you deal with the symptoms, they do little to help treat the problem long-term.
If you are suffering from hay fever (allergies to pollen, pet dander and mold), there are a few simple things you can do to reduce these allergens in your home.
- Keep doors and windows closed, especially on windy days and during pollen season, using air-conditioning when necessary.
- Stay indoors as much as possible when pollen counts are high; if you must go outside, wear sunglasses to keep pollen from your eyes.
- Encase your mattress and pillows in dust mite-proof cases. Wash all your bedding in hot water at least once a week.
- Remove carpeting from your home and replace with easy to clean material such as hardwood or linoleum. If the wall-to-wall carpeting cannot be removed, vacuum and shampoo the carpet regularly.
- Use only washable window coverings, such as cotton or synthetic curtains.
- During pollen season, keep your windows closed.
- Get rid of clutter; this means removing any knickknacks that sit on tables collecting dust.
- Invest in a HEPA air filtration system to remove small allergen particles from the air.
- Keep potted plants out of the house – either plant them outside or give them away.
- Avoid using a wood-burning fireplace or stove; the smoke will worsen respiratory allergies.
- Wash the sink regularly and don’t let dishes pile up; this can create a breeding ground for mold.
- Wash or replace moldy shower curtains and bathmats.
- Nasal irrigation – rinsing the nasal passages with a saltwater solution, using a bulb syringe or Neti pot – can help reduce the symptoms of hay fever.
- Keep your house at 68 F to 72 F. Dust mites and mold breed best in hot humid conditions.
- Don’t allow smoking inside your home.
- Make sure to bathe pets once a week and keep them out of your bedroom and off the furniture.
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