People who have severe allergies, characterized by symptoms that last most of the year and aren't effectively relieved by antihistamines, have another option desensitization.
Desensitization involves taking allergy serum, which is an extract of the dusts, molds, and pollens that cause allergy, and introducing a very small amount into the body. That amount is increased over time until the body learns to ignore it.
The result is that the body learns to tolerate the chemicals and not overreact to them anymore. If the body responds well, there is no more allergy.
How do we get from point A (allergic) to point D (desensitized)?
For starters, a skin test must be done to get the information for mixing the allergy serum. The testing method most commonly used is the skin prick method. It is done by placing a drop of allergy serum on the skin and sticking a pin through that drop into the skin, thus carrying some of the material into the skin. The skin then decides if it dislikes that material.
If the body is sensitive, a welt will appear, the size of which will vary according to sensitivity to that antigen. The results are then used as a "recipe" for mixing the allergy serum to desensitize the body.
The main drawback of the skin prick method is that it can be very difficult to execute accurately. Accuracy is crucial in mixing the allergy serum since improper mixing will make the serum either less effective or potentially hazardous due to the risk of a severe reaction called anaphylaxis.
The most accurate skin test, however, is generally considered to be intradermal testing. This testing is done by injecting a small amount of allergy serum under the first layer of the skin, waiting 10 minutes, and then measuring the resulting bump. The accuracy of this testing method enables the mixing of a safe and effective allergy serum.
The time-honored method of administering serum for allergy desensitization has been to give shots, usually once or twice a week. This requires inconvenient and time consuming travel to the doctor's office for each shot. Research done around the world has evaluated another way of introducing allergy serum into the body. It entails giving the serum as oral drops. This likely involves two modes of absorption: First, from the mouth lining, especially under the tongue, and second from the GI tract.
The result of the studies has been that oral serum is both effective and very safe. Additionally, it is easily done at home and avoids frequent trips to the doctor's office.
Patients who respond well to treatment will experience a gradual reduction in allergy symptoms over a relatively short time. Such patients will find that they need to take less allergy medicine or they'll be able to discard it altogether.
Stuart H. Agren, M.D. has been in private practice for 25 years. He specializes in allergy and asthma treatment for children and adults. He recently began practicing in Payson, in the office of Mountain High Women's Health. For more information, call Agren toll free at (877) 276-3393.