Allergic conditions can be treated by three different methods:
For food, drug, cosmetic and latex allergies, the best strategy is avoidance. Usually the risk of negative health effects, including shock, is too great to warrant any other type of treatment, especially since substitutions can usually be found. In some cases, when there is no alternative drug to treat a patient, desensitization may be performed.
For those who suffer from allergies to pollen, dust, animal dander, molds and other airborne allergens, it's virtually impossible to avoid allergens, though steps can be taken to reduce the amount of allergen in the home. These steps include removing carpets, using dust mite covers on mattresses and pillows, vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters, use of air conditioning in the summer, and removing pets from the home. Air purifiers may provide limited reduction after these steps have been taken.
Since asthma can be triggered by a variety of substances, from allergens to pollutants, avoidance is also an important strategy in preventing acute attacks.
We offer counseling and patient education on avoidance and reduction strategies.
We are fortunate that a number of safe and effective drugs exist to treat allergies, asthma, eczema and other allergic conditions. Patients with seasonal symptoms can often rely on medications to control their acute symptoms. In some cases, maintenance medications, especially in the case of asthma, may be required to prevent acute inflammation and improve quality of life.
Allergen Immunotherapy (Desensitization):
When medications fail to fully control symptoms and for those with life-threatening insect allergies, we recommend allergen immunotherapy. This completely natural therapy is similar to vaccinations for childhood illnesses and the flu.
The idea is to expose the patient's immune system to very small quantities of the offending allergen. This treatment encourages the body to use the immune system to develop natural resistance, desensitizing the patient to allergens. What's more, it's completely natural.
During the build-up stage of treatment, the amount of allergen is gradually increased through weekly, then biweekly, injected doses. Once the patient reaches a maintenance level, he or she receives the injections every four weeks for three to five years. The treatment requires only 20 minutes in the office for each visit.
Immunotherapy, or allergy shots, can take a few months to have an effect, however the therapy is long-lasting if the patient remains on it for three to five years. Relief can be had for several years after the discontinuation of therapy. For some, several years of maintenance on immunotherapy can lead to a permanent change in the immune system, or a cure.
Allergen immunotherapy is a standard treatment that has been in use since 1911. It is effective for more than 80% of patients who try it for environmental allergens, and 95% effective for those with insect venom allergies. In general, it is also quite safe. The injections are done between the layers of the skin, not into the muscle, so the pain of the injection is minimal. There may be a local reaction after an injection, similar to a mosquito bite, that dissipates quickly. For more information, see the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology's factsheet: Efficacy and Safety of Immunotherapy.
Desensitization may also be prescribed to patients who have no choice but to receive a drug to which they are allergic, such as aspirin or penicillin. Desensitization to drugs is conducted in hospital settings under the supervision of an allergist.