Immunotherapy is the only long-term option for reducing—and sometimes even eliminating—your allergy symptoms. Immunotherapy aims to develop your body’s tolerance to an allergen by introducing small amounts of the substance into your system regularly over time. Candidates for immunotherapy include individuals with allergy symptoms who do not respond to medical treatment, as well as those looking for a long-term solution for their allergies.
Traditionally, immunotherapy has been delivered via injection, or what’s known as allergy shots. Sublingual (under the tongue) drops are another option for administering allergens to the body. The substance administered during immunotherapy is a mixture of the allergens that are problematic for you individually. In order to administer the correct substances, we must perform allergy testing before we begin treatment. Once the allergen trigger has been identified, an extract of that substance is prepared. The delivery method depends on which type of immunotherapy treatment the patient is receiving.
Allergy shots are administered in small injections into the upper arm. Many patients begin treatment with weekly or twice-weekly shots. While receiving your shot only takes a minute, patients are usually asked to remain in the clinic for 20–30 minutes after administration to ensure there is no severe reaction. You may notice a little redness, swelling and tenderness at the injection site, but keeping up with a consistent schedule reduces your risk of a serious reaction.
The frequency of your shots can often be reduced after several months. Patients who have reached the maintenance phase of treatment can generally reduce shot frequency to once or twice per month. Building tolerance to an allergen takes years, so treatment is a long-term commitment. Most of our patients receive immunotherapy over a period of 3-5 years.
Sublingual immunotherapy works essentially the same way as allergy shots, but the allergen extracts are delivered via drops under the tongue rather than injections. In most cases, these drops have to sit under the tongue for several minutes before they are swallowed. Sublingual immunotherapy is usually administered on a daily basis at home. Sublingual immunotherapy generally has a lower risk of more serious side effects than injections. Like allergy shots, your treatment can take up to five years before you’ve developed a tolerance to your allergens.
Is Immunotherapy Safe?
Both forms of immunotherapy are considered safe and effective, and complications are rare. While immunotherapy isn’t right for everyone, many of our patients in Bartlesville and the surrounding communities opt for immunotherapy over long-term symptomatic treatment using prescription or over-the-counter medication. Immunotherapy is most effective for patients allergic to pollen, mold, dust mites, and animal dander. It does not treat food or drug allergies.