When a doctor recommends an unfamiliar treatment plan, questions may arise. Allergy treatments and immunotherapy for allergies may be unexplored territory for many. To understand how allergy testing affects the immune system, we must understand what allergies are and what the treatment does.
What is the Immune System?
Our bodies are exposed to millions upon millions of foreign particles and bacteria every day. Most are benign, but some can cause hard. The job of the immune system is to protect the body. Many different cells are involved in the immune system and immune response. The purpose of these cells is to target and destroy harmful foreign cells in the body.
What are allergies?
The immune system is vigilant. However, sometimes it isn’t exactly right. An allergic response is an immune response. It happens when the immune system recognizes a harmless particles, like dust or pollen, and sees it as a threat. The body then responds by attacking these particles. This immune response is what causes allergies.
According to the Asthma Allergy Foundation of America, “Allergies are one of the most common chronic diseases. A chronic disease lasts a long time or occurs often. An allergy occurs when the body’s immune system sees a substance as harmful and overreacts to it. The substances that cause allergic reactions are allergens. When someone has allergies, their immune system makes an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). These antibodies respond to allergens. The symptoms that result are an allergic reaction.”
Symptoms can widely vary depending on the severity of the immune response. Seasonal allergies tend to have symptoms such as itchy, watery eyes, and a runny nose. Food-based allergies may lead to swelling or itching. Some allergic reactions may be severe and lead to anaphylactic shock. Allergens, which are things that trigger an allergic reaction, can vary widely.
What is Immunotherapy/Allergy Treatment?
The types of allergy treatments available change depending on the type of allergen the individual is responding to. Certain treatments are used for certain allergens. However, the concept of allergy treatment is simple. The idea behind allergy treatment is desensitization.
The goal of immunotherapy and allergy treatment is to desensitize the immune system to the allergen. Kathryn Edwards, an allergist from Princeton, NJ, explained that “treatment for allergies involves long term intervention to decrease symptoms over time.”
Two of the most common types of allergy treatments include allergy shots/immunotherapy and allergy drops or Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT). As the word immunotherapy implies, this involves treatment intended to heal the immune system.
Does Allergy Treatment Affect the Immune System?
Because allergies are the result of an overactive immune system, allergy treatment does affect the immune system. However, it is not due to suppressants, but rather through desensitization. Both treatments are long term.
According to the National Center of Biotechnology Information, “The shots and drops contain a tiny amount of the allergens that cause your allergies. For example, if you are allergic to oak tree pollen, your shots or drops will have a tiny amount of oak tree pollen in them. Allergy shots and drops both contain the allergens that cause your allergies.”
The drops and shots should not cause strong reactions, although they do contain an allergen. Over time, the concentration of this allergen is increased. The goal is to continue to add more and more of the allergen and have the body react less or not at all.
How Much Will the Treatment Affect My Immune System?
Allergy shots have been reported to be effective in controlling allergy symptoms. However, the area in which the shot is delivered may experience some side effects such as itching and swelling. Over several months or even years, you should notice a decrease in the severity of your allergic reactions or even complete remission from allergy symptoms.
However, this is not always the case. According to the American Academy of Allergy & Asthma and Immunology, “Some people have lasting remission of their allergy symptoms, but others may relapse after discontinuing immunotherapy, so the duration of allergen immunotherapy varies from person to person.”
As with many medical procedures, there are potential side effects and risks, the risks being greater for allergy shots than allergy drops. Although extremely rare, it is possible to suffer life-threatening anaphylactic shock. For this reason, allergy treatment should always be done under the supervision and direction of a doctor. Other, more common, side effects of allergy shots can include coughing, fatigue, mucus dripping down the throat, and headaches. Allergy drops may have side effects such as mild mouth swelling and itching as well as throat irritation.
How Can Allergy Treatment Help Me?
For those who cannot manage allergy symptoms through medication alone, allergy treatment can be life-changing. They can allow an individual to comfortably participate in activities that they may not have been able to previously. While the process is long, it is worth the time invested. When considering any medical treatment, it is important to always consult your physician and see if it is right for you.