Immunotherapy is more commonly known as "allergy shots." The basic idea is simple. If your immune system is exposed to very small amounts of an allergen (too small an amount to cause an allergic reaction), it might become more accustomed to that allergen and cause fewer symptoms as time goes on. Itís essentially training your immune system to respond differently to a substance (like pollen or mold).
Immunotherapy is usually only recommended for patients with severe allergy symptoms. The process can be time-consuming and costly so patients with only minor symptoms or with symptoms that respond well to less expensive over the counter medications usually do not undergo allergy testing or take allergy shots. For those with severe allergies, though, immunotherapy can provide much-needed relief.
Talk to your physician about whether or not immunotherapy is a good option for you. You might want to see an allergy specialist, or allergist, to make sure you get the best treatment possible.
First, allergy testing is performed to determine exactly what substances you are allergic too. Your doctor may perform skin prick testing, in which your skin is pricked and a very small amount of a possible allergen introduced. Since there are hundreds of substances that can cause allergy symptoms, you may be pricked many times. If your skin shows signs of an allergic reaction, like redness or inflammation, you know you are allergic to that substance. Some doctors order blood tests instead of, or in addition to, skin prick testing.
Let your doctor know if you think you might be allergic to particular substances and tell your doctor if your allergy symptoms are worse at certain times of the year. That information will help your doctor determine which allergies to test you for.
With the information gathered from your allergy tests, a lab makes a special injection solution specifically for you. Your solution will contain small amounts of the identified allergens.
Allergy shots are injected under the skin (subcutaneously), usually on a weekly basis. You can visit your allergist each week for your injection or you can get a prescription for needles and syringes and inject yourself instead. You doctor can show you how to do it. Itís simple and you donít need any special medical knowledge to be able to do it correctly.
The amounts of the allergens are slowly increased so your immune system gets used to the allergensí presence in your body. Eventually, your body may not respond at all with allergic symptoms when exposed to the allergens in a natural setting because your immune system is so used to seeing them in your weekly injections. It's a lot like getting into cold water; if you jump in all at once, it's quite a shock and you'll have a strong reaction. If you ease yourself into the water little by little, though, it doesn't seem so cold because you have time to get used to the temperature.
Results with immunotherapy as described above will vary from patient to patient. People that are allergic to pollen and mold often get very good results over time, though it may take as long as a year or two for them to develop the desired immunity to such allergens. People that suffer allergies to substances like dust and dust mites donít always get such good results. An allergy specialist may be able to tell you how likely your allergies are to improve with immunotherapy, but no one can make you any guarantees.
To learn more about symptoms of Allergies and Allergen Avoidance, check out what the Self-Care Advisory has to say on those topics. You might also want to read up on Asthma and Wheezing, which can be triggered by allergies.
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