From sneezing and runny noses, to itchy, watery eyes and sinus pain, the symptoms of seasonal allergies aren’t what anyone would call fun. Although you can’t cure your allergies, immunotherapy can help your body learn not to respond to various allergens. Think of immunotherapy like a vaccination against allergies, as it works in a way that’s similar to how viral vaccines work.
If you’re tired of taking allergy medication, of staying indoors on some of the nicest days of the year, and of constantly feeling less than your best, immunotherapy might be the treatment you need.
Before you can receive allergy shots, you and your doctor need to determine what it is that you’re allergic to. People have allergies because their immune system responds in a negative way to a non-threatening object. Allergens can range from pollen and dust, to foods and insect venom. Some people are allergic to certain medications or drugs or to the ingredients found in cosmetics.
Your doctor will perform an allergy test to determine what you’re allergic to. It might be that you have a single allergy, or you might be allergic to a number of things.
Allergy testing is usually a two-part process. During the first part, your doctor will prick the skin, exposing it to a number of different allergens. If your skin has a reaction, such as a red bump that forms, you are most likely allergic to that particular allergen.
The second part of allergy testing involves injecting suspected allergens just beneath the skin to see how it reacts. Although it’s not always used, in some cases a doctor might order a blood test to see what you are allergic to. A sample of your blood is sent to a lab, where it is exposed to a number of allergens.
The tests for food allergies are different than the tests for seasonal allergies. Rather than exposing you to a small amount of a food allergen, your doctor might recommend eliminating all suspected food allergens from your diet. After avoiding the food for some time, you can try it again to see how your body reacts.
Good Candidates for Immunotherapy
Immunotherapy usually only works for certain types of allergies. If you have seasonal allergies, an allergy to pet dander, dust, bee stings or mold, you’re likely to see some results from allergy shots. The treatment doesn’t work for people who have allergies to certain drugs or foods. In those cases, the best option is avoid the foods or drugs you’re allergic to.
Allergy shots can help both adults and kids with allergies, although they are usually only recommended for kids over the age of five. Younger children might not be fully able to express how the therapy is helping them or to describe the type of symptoms they have as a result of treatment.
There are certain medical conditions that can make immunotherapy risky. Your doctor might advise against the shots if you’re currently pregnant or if you have a history of heart disease or asthma.
What Happens During Immunotherapy
Since immunotherapy is similar to a vaccine for allergies, the treatment works by exposing your body to the allergen or allergens that you have a reaction to. The doctor will start with a small dose of the allergen and will gradually increase it with each injection. Usually, people start out receiving at least one shot a week.
After about a year of ever increasing doses, you’ll reach what’s known as the maintenance phase of your therapy. You’ll receive the same dosage amount, but you won’t have to get the shots as frequently. At this point, people start to get their shots every other week. After about another year, many move to receiving shots every three weeks.
How Long the Results Last
For the most part, the results from immunotherapy last for as long as the therapy lasts. Once you’ve reached the every few weeks stage of therapy, it’s possible for you to have a flare up of symptoms during allergy season. But that doesn’t happen to every one.
Most patients, about 80%, who have immunotherapy for several years note a continued improvement in their symptoms, even once they’ve stopped getting the shots. A small number of people do need to keep up their therapy and shots to keep their allergy symptoms from returning.
ABOUT DR. RUBINSTEIN
You don’t have to suffer through allergy season after allergy season. Dr. Rubinstein has nearly sixteen years of experience helping patients with allergies and related problems in the Hudson Valley. A board certified facial plastic surgeon and board certified otolaryngologist, he has extensive knowledge of laser procedures, facial plastic surgery, and nasal and sinus treatments which allow him to improve aesthetics as well as functionality of the nose and facial features. Dr. Rubinstein received his board certifications through the American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and the American Board of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. To learn more about your immunotherapy options, schedule an appointment with Dr. Rubinstein at the Hudson Valley Sinus Center by calling 845-562-6673.