Allergy desensitization, also known as allergen immunotherapy or allergy shots, is a medical treatment designed to reduce or eliminate allergic reactions in individuals who are hypersensitive to specific allergens. This treatment is primarily used for allergies caused by environmental factors, such as pollen, dust mites, pet dander, insect stings, and certain molds.
Here's how allergy desensitization works:
Allergen Identification: First, a healthcare provider performs allergy testing to identify the specific allergens to which an individual is allergic. Common tests include skin prick tests and blood tests that measure the levels of specific antibodies (IgE) to various allergens.
Customized Treatment: Based on the results of allergy testing, a personalized treatment plan is created for the individual. This plan includes the allergens to which the person is allergic.
Allergen Exposure: Allergy desensitization involves exposing the individual to tiny, controlled amounts of the allergens to which they are allergic. This exposure is typically done through injections (allergy shots) or, in some cases, sublingual drops or tablets placed under the tongue.
Gradual Increase: The doses of allergens are initially very low and are gradually increased over time. This process is called dose escalation. The goal is to desensitize the immune system to the allergens gradually.
Reprogramming the Immune System: Over time, the immune system becomes less responsive to the allergens, reducing or even eliminating allergic reactions. This reprogramming of the immune system can take several months to years, depending on the individual and the specific allergens involved.
Maintenance: After reaching the target maintenance dose, individuals typically continue to receive regular allergy shots or sublingual treatments for an extended period, often several years, to maintain the desensitization effect.
Allergy desensitization is primarily used for the treatment of allergic rhinitis (hay fever), allergic asthma, and insect sting allergies. It is less commonly used for food allergies.
Benefits of allergy desensitization may include:
Reduced severity of allergy symptoms
Decreased reliance on allergy medications
Improved quality of life, especially for individuals with severe allergies
Prevention of the progression of allergies to more severe conditions
It's important to note that allergy desensitization is not a quick fix and requires a commitment to the treatment plan over an extended period. It should only be administered under the supervision of a qualified allergist or immunologist, as there can be risks associated with the treatment, including the potential for allergic reactions to the injections.
Not everyone with allergies is a candidate for allergy desensitization, and the decision to pursue this treatment should be made in consultation with a healthcare provider who specializes in allergies and immunology.