55% of Americans tested, test positive to one or more allergens; allergies rank 5th in the United States among the most common chronic diseases. More and more Americans are finding lasting relief from their allergy symptoms with the use of immunotherapy.
Allergies are caused by the body's immune system misclassifying harmless substances as potentially dangerous. When the body comes in contact with the allergen either by ingesting, inhaling or touching the skin, an allergic reaction occurs any number of symptoms such as runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing, wheezing and skin irritations. Allergic reactions can range from barely noticeable to life threatening.
Pollens are the most common cause for allergy symptoms followed by Animal dander. Dust mites and insect bites are the next most common and mold rounds out the top 5 most common allergy triggers in the United States.
Determining a patient's allergies is not difficult; Skin tests are the most common method of testing for allergies. Skin tests involve putting very small amounts of allergens on the skin; the body will respond to the allergens the individual is allergic to. With the results of the skin test, the allergist / immunologist can discuss treatment options available for the patient.
People with mild allergies may find that over the counter allergy medications are enough to deal with the symptoms. Individuals with more annoying cases may want to try prescription allergy medication or seek a more potentially permanent solution with immunotherapy (allergy shots)
Allergy shots work in a similar fashion as other immunizations; small amounts of the allergen are introduced to the body, the body over time gets used to the allergen and stops reacting to it. Allergy shots are administrated over the course of a few months (in some cases years), but it's the only treatment currently available that has the potential to provide long term relief from allergies.
Risks involved in Allergy Immunotherapy are very rare but could include anaphylaxis which could be life threatening if not handled properly. Allergy shots should only be given at a facility equipped with the necessary staff and equipment to handle such a risk, should it arise.
A typical allergy shot regimen involves shots once or twice a week at first until the target dose is reached which can take 3 – 6 months. Once the target dose is reached, the maintenance phase begins; shots are then administrated once or twice a month. The maintenance phase generally lasts 3 – 5 years at which time some patients experience lasting remission while others may begin showing symptoms once treatment is discontinued.
Is allergy immunotherapy a good option? Several things to consider when deciding:
- The frequency and severity of the symptoms
- The effectiveness of medication
- The ability to avoid the allergens
- The desire to prevent long term use of medication
- The time commitment involved with immunotherapy
- Cost effectiveness
For someone dealing with allergy symptoms, the best place to start is with an allergy test. Once the allergen is identified, the person may find the allergen is avoidable; others may want to consider one of the other offered options available.