Oral Allergy Syndrome Treatment: Immunotherapy

Image courtesy of Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots, is the method of taking a small amount of your possible allergen (such as pollen) putting it in a liquid or pill form and giving it to you in hopes of decreasing or preventing your allergy symptoms. While immunotherapy is a treatment used for hay fever and pollen allergies there has been some success in people with oral allergy syndrome. One study showed people with oral allergy syndrome related to birch pollen had a decrease in 60-80% of their oral allergy syndrome symptoms. Unfortunately, success with oral allergy syndrome is so inconsistent most allergists or doctors will not use immunotherapy to specifically treat oral allergy syndrome but may consider it if you also have troublesome reactions to any of these allergens:

  1. Pollen
  2. Pet dander
  3. Dust mites
  4. Insect stings
  5. Molds

Immunotherapy is not helpful for allergies to foods, latex, or medicines.

What are the different types of immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is not a painful procedure and only in the case of allergy shots will you have temporary, minor discomfort. The most common forms of immunotherapy are:

  1. Subcutaneous injection immunotherapy (Allergy Shots). Allergy shots are used to treat allergies to pollens, pet dander, dust mites, insect stings, and mold. The shots contain a small amount of trigger allergen liquid given in regular, increasing doses in hopes of lessening the body’s immune response to the trigger allergen. These shots are usually injected into the upper arm beginning weekly and eventually monthly for a minimum of 3 to 5 years under the supervision of an allergist or medical professional. The chance of having an anaphylactic reaction to an allergy shot is rare but possible. For this reason it is recommended that you wait in the medical office after receiving the shot for at least 30 minutes to make sure there is no severe reaction. This type of immunotherapy is the most common immunotherapy treatment and has proven to provide lasting results, though once the shots have stopped the symptoms may gradually return.
  2. Oral (by mouth) immunotherapy. Oral immunotherapy is primarily used to treat pollen allergies and is available in a swallow-able pill, a sublingual pill that dissolves under the tongue, or a swallow-able liquid. In all forms, the medication is taken at home daily with an increasing amount of trigger allergen in it to hopefully lessen the body’s immune response to the trigger allergen. This method is usually started several months before the trigger pollen season starts and then continued daily to weekly during the pollen season. There is no standard of practice for the length of time to be on oral immunotherapy so some doctors may recommend that it is taken yearly while others may suggest only taking it during the trigger pollen season. Either way there is no research that proves one length of time is better than the other. One benefit to this method over allergy shots is that it has a lower risk of anaphylaxis but since it is taken at home if there was a reaction no medical help would be immediately available. Unfortunately, this type of immunotherapy is practiced mostly in Europe and Canada and has yet to be approved by the FDA in the United States.
  3. Other types. There are several other types of immunotherapy but they are not widely available or consistently used, especially in the case of oral allergy syndrome.

Is there any reason I can’t have immunotherapy?

In some cases your allergist may not allow you to have immunotherapy and may suggest other methods of treatment, such as antihistamines. Reasons may include:

  • You are unable to stop certain medications. For example, people who take beta blockers may want to avoid immunotherapy because beta blockers can make it difficult to treat an anaphylactic reaction. For your safety, make sure your doctor knows all the medications you take before starting immunotherapy.
  • If you are pregnant. If you started immunotherapy before getting pregnant it is safe to continue to take as long as the doses aren’t increased. If you are beginning allergy shots, it is best to not start them while pregnant.
  • Certain health conditions. Certain conditions such as uncontrolled asthma could put people at greater risk for severe reactions while taking immunotherapy.

Are there any risks when taking immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is generally considered safe, even for children, but can in rare cases cause an allergic reaction ranging from a minor reaction to an anaphylactic reaction. Make sure to discuss with your allergist or doctor all the risks and benefits for taking immunotherapy and make sure it is a safe and effective option for your oral allergy syndrome treatment plan.



Disclaimer: The information contained in this site is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for a licensed physician. Please see your physician for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition. Click here to read the full disclaimer.
Subscribe today to receive OASN updates, information, and promotions!