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Desensitisation

Desensitisation (also known as immunotherapy) is the practice of administering gradually increasing doses of an allergen extract (eg pollen) in order to reduce the symptoms of the hayfever or asthma that it causes. It was first carried out almost 100 years ago and is now in widespread use around the world. It is sometimes referred to as ‘allergy vaccination’.

 

What are the benefits of allergen immunotherapy?

Large scientific studies have confirmed that immunotherapy can be used to reduce the symptoms of allergic rhinoconjunctivitis (hayfever) and seasonal asthma caused by grass or tree pollen as well as dust mite. Most patients receiving treatment also report needing to use less medication. As immunotherapy actually changes the way the body’s immune system reacts to the allergen, the beneficial effects continue beyond the 3 years that the treatment is given for.

Immunotherapy against year round allergens such as cat, horse or dog are also available although less is known about how well these treatments work although they do seem to be effective. Using immunotherapy from an early age may actually prevent new allergies developing and reduce the likelihood of getting asthma in later life. However, immunotherapy only works against a particular allergen. So, for example, having immunotherapy to grass pollen may help with hayfever symptoms during the summer (which are caused by grass pollen) but will not improve symptoms caused by other allergens such as house dust mite, during other times of the year.

There are different ways of performing desensitisation. These include:

Whilst sublingual immunotherapy avoids the need for injections it does need to be taken on a daily basis either all year or through the whole pollen season for a total of 3 years. As it is a newer treatment, there is less information regarding how long the beneficial effects last after the end of treatment and how well it prevents the development of asthma.

Our doctors will discuss with you which type of immunotherapy may be best suited for you. Once a decision has been reached, you will be provided with more detailed information about the particular type of treatment.

Food desensitisation is an area of increasing interest and we are already using this in our practice (eg for milk and egg allergy) and are involved in research studies looking at the potential role of peanut desensitisation.

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Desensitisation

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