Suffering from allergies is miserable, especially if over-the-counter and prescription medications are no longer alleviating the symptoms. Fortunately, the Asthma Allergy Centre in Tigard, McMinnville, and Beaverton, OR offers allergen immunotherapy, otherwise referred to as allergy shots or sublingual immunotherapy, that can reduce your allergy symptoms and improve your quality of life.
How Does Allergen Immunotherapy Work?
A Vaccine Against Allergens
Allergy shots and sublingual immunotherapy affect the body like a vaccine, which means that you’re essentially making yourself immune against the allergens that have typically caused you to have symptoms. We take a small amount of the allergen and inject it into your body or provide it to you under your tongue to help develop a tolerance for that allergen. We gradually increase the amount of allergen given to you to build your immunity up over time.
There are three sublingual immunotherapy tablets that have been approved by the FDA for the treatment of allergies. These are Oralair, which can treat up to five different grass pollens; Grastek, which treats timothy grass pollen; and Ragwitek, which treats ragweed pollen. If you elect sublingual immunotherapy, these quick-dissolving tablets should be placed under your tongue and allowed to fully dissolve. They contain the same antigens as the shots and should be taken 12 weeks prior to grass allergy season.
There are two phases to immunotherapy for allergies, which are the build-up phase and the maintenance phase. During the build-up phase, we provide you with gradually increasing amounts of allergens in injection or sublingual form once or twice a week. The length of this phase depends on how often you receive the therapy but can range from three to six months. It also depends on how well your body responds to the allergy injections or tablets during treatment.
The second phase, or maintenance phase, begins once we have achieved the effective dose of allergen, which is determined by your body’s sensitivity to the allergen and your body’s response to the allergen during the build-up phase. Once you’ve entered the maintenance phase, you won’t need to receive treatment as often, but will still require shots or tablets every two-to-four weeks. We’ll help determine an appropriate schedule for your individual needs once we see how your symptoms respond to treatment.
You may be on the maintenance phase of immunotherapy for up to 12 months before you see the full results of treatment. If we determine that immunotherapy is beneficial for you, it’s possible to continue maintenance sessions for as long as five years. Before discontinuing your treatment, we will help you weigh the benefits and drawbacks of immunotherapy for your specific condition and needs. Long-term immunotherapy is safe, but may not be appropriate for everyone.
Allergens That Can Be Treated by Immunotherapy
Immunotherapy, whether through injection or sublingual administration, is effective on a variety of allergens, including grass pollens, weed pollens, tree pollens, cat dander, dog dander, dust mites, bee venom, and possibly others. It is not effective on food allergies, but there are other treatments available for people who suffer from food allergies. During our consultation and examination, we’ll discuss and assess your allergies to determine a proper course of treatment, which may include immunotherapy in either injection or sublingual form.
Benefits of Immunotherapy
Obviously, the main benefit of allergen immunotherapy is that your symptoms improve and you’re able to get through the day without the sneezing, itchy eyes, wheezing, and rashes that can accompany your condition. However, there are other benefits to immunotherapy that you may not be aware of, and that can tip the scales in favor of this type of treatment. These benefits include the following.
- Lower costs over time
- Decreased dependence on allergy medication
- Treatment of the underlying cause of allergies instead of just the symptoms
- Treatment of multiple allergies at once time
- Long-term allergy symptom relief
- Prevents the development of new allergies
- Prevents allergies from triggering asthma, especially in children
Your allergy symptoms are your body’s immune response to a trigger, such as pollen, dander, and others. By exposing your immune system to these triggers, we’re reducing your body’s immune response over time, resulting in fewer symptoms. This is what is meant by treating the underlying cause of your allergies rather than just the symptoms. Oral medications focus on making you feel better but don’t actually resolve allergies, so they continue to affect you every time you encounter the trigger.
Additionally, some people do not tolerate oral allergy medications very well, and the side effects of these drugs can actually rival the symptoms of the allergies themselves in terms of which is less tolerable. Sometimes, patients decide the side effects aren’t worth it and discontinue the medication, preferring to suffer through their allergy symptoms instead. These patients can often tolerate immunotherapy much better than oral medication and find significant relief. Even the sublingual tablets have proven effective for these patients.
Candidates for Immunotherapy
Many people can benefit from allergen immunotherapy, and you don’t have to be a specific age to receive either shots or tablets. However, we typically do not recommend treatment for children under the age of five, mostly because of compliance issues. Moreover, young children can have difficulty explaining their symptoms or letting us know that their symptoms are resolving with treatment. Older adults can also benefit from immunotherapy, but other conditions such as cardiac disease should be considered first.
When discussing your allergies with us, we will consider several aspects of your condition before recommending a treatment like immunotherapy. For instance, we will talk about the following issues related to your allergies.
- The length of the allergy season
- The severity of your allergy symptoms
- How well over-the-counter or prescription medications are treating your allergies
- How well environmental controls are helping your allergies
- Your desire to take medications on a long-term basis
- Your ability to commit to the time required for immunotherapy
- The cost of immunotherapy and whether your insurance will cover part of or all of the treatment
If you are unable or unwilling to commit to the frequency of allergy shots, you may be a candidate for sublingual allergy tablets, which accomplish the same goal of increasing your immunity to the allergen. While sublingual tablets tend to be less effective than the shots, they are significantly more convenient since you do not have to come into our office to get them on schedule. Despite the lower effectiveness, tablets may still be the better option for you.
Effectiveness of Immunotherapy
Many allergies respond well to immunotherapy and patients often achieve a significant decrease in symptoms following the build-up phase of treatment. While some people experience long-lasting relief from their allergy symptoms, others experience a relapse, particularly if they fail to continue receiving injections or tablets during the maintenance phase. Immunotherapy is not a cure for allergies, but it can provide respite from symptoms that can interfere with your quality of life, especially if your allergies are severe.
Even if you don’t achieve 100 percent relief from your allergy symptoms through immunotherapy, you’re likely to decrease their severity to the point where they no longer keep you from participating in and enjoying the activities you love. You may still experience some symptoms on occasion, especially if the environment has a high amount of allergen present or if you are allergic to other substances that weren’t included in the initial assessment or that can’t be treated with immunotherapy.
Studies show that allergen immunotherapy is over 90% effective in treating allergies when administered properly. They are considered the gold standard of allergy treatment and offer a cost-savings benefit over long-term oral medication use and overall healthcare expenses. Allergy shots are specifically effective in children, as they can prevent the development of asthma, which is a complication in more than 25% of kids with untreated allergies. Seeking treatment for allergies as early as possible is key to an effective solution.
Treatment at Our Office vs. at Home
While you may have heard that allergy shots can be administered at home, we don’t recommend that course of treatment. This type of immunotherapy should be administered in our properly-equipped office by expert staff, who can supervise the treatment and ensure its safety. By administering shots at home, you risk having an adverse reaction that can’t be immediately treated. The immunotherapy treatments are quick and simple once your dosing is determined, and you can continue with your day immediately afterward.
Sublingual immunotherapy can be administered at home, which is why many of our patients choose this form over injections. Even though they are slightly less effective, you won’t be required to come into our office once or twice a week if you take the tablets, as you will be for injections. This convenience often outweighs the minor decrease in efficacy for the tablets, but if you don’t get the results you want, shots may be the better option.
Although the typical build-up phase for immunotherapy requires shots once or twice a week, we can alter your schedule to meet your needs. If you’re looking to achieve results more quickly, we can increase the frequency of your injections. If you need more time between visits, we can decrease the number of appointments, which will delay the maintenance phase but may be more appealing to you in terms of how often you need to come into our office for treatment.
Determining Specific Allergens
Immunotherapy is only effective if your specific allergens are identified so that the appropriate treatments and dosage can be prepared for your individual needs. Therefore, we will base our treatment on several factors, including your clinical history, your symptoms and triggers, and allergy test results. We will then create a unique shot that is designed to resolve your allergies and not anyone else’s. This individualized treatment is why our expertise is valuable and necessary for you to achieve optimal results.
If you are tired of suffering through allergy season or you want to decrease your dependence on oral allergy medication, you should explore the alternative of immunotherapy for allergies. You don’t have to put up with the sneezing, wheezing, red and itchy eyes, rashes, and other symptoms of allergies even if you elect not to take oral medication. There is a better option, and it’s available to patients of all ages right here in our office.
The next step to finding a long-term solution to your allergies is to contact us for a consultation and examination. We’ll take a look at your history, run some allergy tests, and discuss your reasons for seeking immunotherapy to develop a customized treatment plan for you. So, call our experts at the Asthma Allergy Centre in Tigard, McMinnville, and Beaverton, OR, and book an appointment today.