Once the doctor has determined what a person is allergic to, they can develop a serum or oral medication that will help the patient's body produce the necessary antibodies to prevent an allergic reaction. This type of treatment is also known as desensitization.
The treatment involves introducing steadily increasing dosages of the allergen to the body in an attempt to minimize the body's reaction. Immunotherapy often produces very few side effects. Those that do appear include runny nose, watery eyes, itching eyes, sneezing, coughing and reactions near the injection site if allergy shots are used. Most reactions to the medication are similar to the same symptoms the person is trying to avoid, but only last a few hours after receiving the treatment. Immunotherapy treatments involve a weekly or bi-weekly treatment plan in which the dosages of allergens are steadily increased.
Subcutaneous immunotherapy uses a series of injections as a way of dispensing the required medication. Although sublingual immunotherapy medications can be taken anywhere, subcutaneous immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots, must be given in a medically supervised environment.
Allergy shots are given according to a specific schedule. The shots are given once a week for several weeks with the dosage increasing with each injection. When the first maintenance dosage is reached, the shots are given every two weeks, again with the dosage increasing with each injection. Subcutaneous immunotherapy may also produce the same side effects as the sublingual form.
With injections, the site of the shot may become red, irritated, and itch slightly. The side effects of the injections only last for a few hours. If the side effects last longer than normal, they should be reported to the physician so the dosage can be adjusted for future injections. In most cases, the doctor or nurse who give the injection will request the patient wait in the office for at least 20 to 30 minutes to ensure there is not a reaction.
Sublingual forms of immunotherapy involve oral medications that are placed under the tongue to dissolve. This type of immunotherapy is somewhat less effective than allergy shots. It is quite effective, however, for allergies that affect the upper respiratory system or trigger asthma attacks.
Sublingual medications are placed under the tongue where they dissolve rapidly. The tissues of the mouth, especially those under the tongue, readily absorb most types of medications that are made to dissolve quickly in a moist environment. Sublingual immunotherapy is often preferable to the injectable forms, especially when the patient is a small child.
This form of immunotherapy is gaining popularity with patients who have food allergies. Because this type of immunotherapy is somewhat less effective than the injectable form, the dosage may need to be adjusted more often to maintain a positive response. It may also take longer to reach a maintenance dose when this type of immunotherapy treatment is used.