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Healthy Living: So, How Effective Is Immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy may sound like a new way of treating health issues, but it first appeared in the late 19th century.

Immunotherapy may sound like a new way of treating health issues, but it first appeared in the late 19th century. This exciting field of medicine has applications in treating respiratory ailments as well as severe diseases like cancer and HIV. Nowadays, immunotherapy provides positive results for those seeking comfort and relief from allergy symptoms.

Kathryn Edwards, MD, is a board-certified allergist in Princeton and Robbinsville, NJ. As part of Penn Medicine Becker ENT & Allergy, she works with patients to overcome allergies by determining the root cause of their symptoms, then providing the appropriate regimen for them.


What Is Immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is a way of treating disease by modulating the immune system. By activating or limiting immune response, a patient can get better results. This happens because the body uses its defenses rather than relying primarily on drugs.

On the list of most prevalent chronic illnesses, allergies take up the sixth spot in the United States. Hospitalizations due to food allergies reach 200,000 per year while other types also lead people to seek medical attention.

Conventional allergy treatments include antihistamines and corticosteroids. These drugs suppress symptoms but do little to provide a long-term option. As long as you experience the effects of your allergies, you have to take medication to find relief.

It should be noted that corticosteroids are to be taken for up to only two weeks at a time. Prolonging the intake of such drugs can have adverse effects on your health. Specifically, diabetes sufferers should be careful with their intake of corticosteroids.

Immunotherapy, on the other hand, targets your body’s sensitivity to allergens. Over time, you become less reactive to the things that trigger your symptoms.


How Effective Is Immunotherapy?

Studies show that with three years of immunotherapy, patients can enjoy two to three years of allergen-specific tolerance. For some sufferers, tolerance can last even longer. Furthermore, success rates range from 65-85% depending on the protocol chosen.

Photo: © Gago Images, YFS Magazine
Photo: © Gago Images, YFS Magazine

Allergy shots can reduce hay fever in approximately 85% of allergic rhinitis sufferers, while oral immunotherapy can help resolve troublesome food allergies. It can also help safeguard you from the severe reactions of food allergies.


How Immunotherapy Can Benefit Allergy Sufferers

While there is no cure for allergies, immunotherapy can offer the next best thing. By following a targeted immunotherapy regimen, you can get to a point where your symptoms are under control.

Furthermore, immunotherapy in young children can have the added benefit of preventing further allergies. Since their immune systems are still developing, immunotherapy in children can reduce the likelihood of other allergies appearing in the future.

With an estimate of one in three Americans suffering from allergies, the candidates for allergy shots number in the tens of millions. Allergens range from pollen and dust mites to mold spores and air pollution.

People that suffer from severe allergy symptoms that don’t want to take medication year-round are good candidates. Those with a sensitivity to inhaled allergens and insect venoms may have an increased chance of experiencing good results.


What Can I Expect?

In the case of allergies, immunotherapy involves exposing the body to increasing amounts of an allergen with time. The doctor determines the progression and adjusts treatments according to how your immune system reacts.

An allergist starts by pinpointing the substance that is responsible for your allergic reaction. Determining the exact allergen that causes your symptoms is done either through a skin test or a blood test. The next step is for the specialist to administer intramuscular or intravenous injections.

These injections contain tiny amounts of the allergen enough to cause an immune response. To counteract a potential reaction, the allergy shots include antihistamines. This way, your natural defenses will slowly and safely become familiar with the irritant.

Think of it like putting training wheels on your immune system and then removing them one by one. Eventually, your body won’t overreact to allergens in a way that disrupts your everyday life.


How Long Does Treatment Take?

Immunotherapy is a process that will take up to a couple of years to harness its full potential. The process starts with multiple tests to determine the root cause of the allergy.

Treatment begins with weekly injections for a few months. Your doctor determines the duration of this initial phase. Weekly injections will then give way to monthly maintenance shots, which may take up to a few years.


Penn Medicine Becker ENT & Allergy

Immunotherapy is a viable option for people that find their lives adversely affected by allergies year-round. If you live in New Jersey and suffer from allergies, you should consider the benefits of immunotherapy for your condition and call Penn Medicine Becker ENT & Allergy today. Call 609-436-5740 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Edwards for allergy & immunology care for both children & adults.


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