What is Immunotherapy?

Skin Prick & Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy or allergen immunotherapy refers to the process by which the body is gradually exposed to increasing doses of a substance which someone is allergic to, in order to reduce the severity of allergic reactions. This is also known as desensitisation. Immunotherapy to pollen has been in existence for many years and is widely used across the world to treat allergies. When administered by someone with the right experience, immunotherapy is considered safe and effective.

Types of Immunotherapy

Currently, to treat environmental allergens, immunotherapy is offered either orally (which is called sublingual immunotherapy or SLIT) or via injection (which is called subcutaneous immunotherapy or SCIT). Oral immunotherapy is an exceptionally safe treatment to offer in a clinic setting but subcutaneous injections do carry with them a small risk of anaphylaxis. It is because of this risk that Dr Helen currently only offers oral immunotherapy in her clinic.

Housedust Mite Desensitisation

House dust mite immunotherapy has the potential to revolutionise daily allergy symptoms caused by the allergen and in some individuals, may prevent asthma from developing. It is a daily dissolvable tablet or spray which is taken for 3 years to ensure long term benefit. Improvement is seen after 8-14 weeks. Treatment is licenced from age 2 years.

Pet Desensitisation

Immunotherapy is available for cat, dog and horse for those with a positive allergy skin test or blood test to the animal. For some individuals this can be beneficial and is particularly useful for those who cannot avoid the animal in question. Treatment is again undertaken for 3 years to ensure long term benefit is sustained. Effectiveness will be monitored and assessed throughout treatment.

Side Effects

Whilst immunotherapy is very safe, like all medications, some people can have side effects. It is common when people first start treatment that they may have an itchy mouth or uncomfortable feeling in their mouth, which you may appreciate, is due to the substance you are allergic to being put in the mouth. This is mild and usually settles quickly within 20-30mins. It can be treated by taking an over-the-counter antihistamine like cetirizine and if it is a regular side effect, taking an antihistamine 30 minutes or so before treatment.
There are other common side effects which can affect up to one in ten people, but they tend to improve after the first week or two of treatment. These include abdominal pain, fatigue, itching, congestion, nasal symptoms, blisters in the mouth, swelling of the tongue or lips, a dry throat, indigestion or chest discomfort, eye inflammation or itching, coughing or asthma symptoms.

Is Immunotherapy Suitable for Me?

Oral immunotherapy is generally a very safe treatment but if an individual has asthma then it is vital that this is well controlled before treatment starts, otherwise it may exacerbate asthma symptoms. If you are pregnant, have a condition which affects your immune system or Eosinophilic Oesophagitis (a condition which affects the food pipe), then generally immunotherapy will not be recommended for you but please discuss this with Dr Helen and she will help you maximise your treatments.
Individuals considering this treatment will need to have symptoms suggestive of an allergy and have a positive allergy test on either skin prick of IgE blood test.

Is Immunotherapy the same as Homeopathy?

This is a common and sensible question but there are key differences between immunotherapy and homeopathy. Immunotherapy is developed using a known amount of an allergen (substance you are allergic to) and the effectiveness has clearly been shown in large studies. Homeopathy has no proven benefit in the treatment of allergies and is developed by progressively diluting an allergen meaning many treatments do not even contain the allergen. This is the complete opposite to immunotherapy which aims to increase the amount of allergen the body is exposed to. See Homeopathy – NHS (www.nhs.uk) for more information.

For any allergy questions or issues that you may have, contact us as soon as you can so you can get the correct diagnosis and treatment


For any allergy questions or issues that you know or even think you may have contact us as soon as you can so you can get the correct diagnosis and treatment

Allergy Centre Of Excellence