Hyposensitization: help with allergies

Hyposensitization: help with allergies

Spring and summer lure with sunshine and warm temperatures – but this time is often torture for allergy sufferers. When Birch, Alder, Hazel & Co let their pollen fly, the hay fever season begins – then the nose runs and eyes burn. Around 30 per cent of Germans suffer from hay fever, but only a few see a doctor about their symptoms. Hyposensitization (desensitization) can alleviate the hay fever symptoms in most allergy sufferers or even make them disappear completely.

Benefits of desensitization

Many allergy sufferers who suffer from hay fever fight their symptoms with medication during the hay fever season. These so-called antihistamines block the action of histamine, thereby preventing the occurrence of an allergic reaction. However, the antihistamines only address the allergy symptoms and not the cause.

In the case of hyposensitization, also known as specific immunotherapy or allergy vaccination, the causes of the allergy are combated. An allergic reaction occurs when the immune system mistakenly reacts in a hostile manner to harmless substances. The antibodies formed by the immune system during the defence reaction lead to the typical symptoms.

During hyposensitization, the allergy sufferer is repeatedly brought into contact with the substances he is allergic to. The substances are usually injected under the skin but can also be taken orally as drops or tablets. The dose administered is small at first but gradually increases until the maintenance dose is reached. The body gets used to the substance through constant contact, and the immune system no longer fights it off, or at least not as vigorously.

If a patient is allergic to several substances, the doctor can create individual mixtures of different allergens. Incidentally, the costs for hyposensitization are usually covered by health insurance.


Hyposensitization: Not only possible with hay fever

Hyposensitization can treat hay fever and allergies caused by house dust mites, certain moulds, insecticides and animal dander. However, if you are allergic to animal hair, avoiding contact with the animals is better. In addition, hyposensitization can also alleviate the symptoms of allergic asthma.

However, hyposensitization is only suitable for some. Hyposensitization is usually not possible in the case of severe asthma, cardiovascular or tumour diseases, a weakened immune system, kidney problems or during pregnancy.

Subcutaneous Immunotherapy

Anyone who undergoes hyposensitization should ask their doctor about the different forms of allergy vaccination. One of the most scientifically researched methods is long-term therapy. The allergens are injected under the patient’s skin over several years. This form of treatment is also known as subcutaneous immunotherapy.

Initially, the treatment occurs weekly; later, one monthly injection is sufficient. If there is seasonal hay fever, treatment should start outside the hay fever period. The therapy can be used for allergies to pollen, insect venom, mould, animal dander and house dust mites.

For those who decide on the spur of the moment, treatment with spraying is also possible shortly before the start of the pollen season. This short-term therapy lasts about four to seven weeks and is particularly suitable for allergies to pollen. However, the treatment should be completed before the start of the flowering phase. So far, the effectiveness of short-term therapy is still controversial. It will probably need to be carried out for at least three consecutive years to achieve long-term results.


Sublingual immunotherapy

Anyone afraid of needles can also fight hay fever with oral therapy. A distinction is made between sublingual immunotherapy, where allergens are taken in drops and tablet therapy.

In sublingual immunotherapy, the patient takes drops daily or every two days for at least three years and lets them melt under the tongue. The drops should be kept in the mouth for at least two minutes. As with treatment with injections, you start with a small dose, which is then continuously increased.

The doctor first takes the drops to rule out serious side effects such as an allergic shock. Even after that, the course of the therapy must be checked by the doctor at regular intervals.

A disadvantage of this form of hyposensitization is that long-term studies on the effectiveness of the therapy are needed. In addition, sublingual immunotherapy costs are higher than injection therapy. The advantage, however, is that the treatment is painless and time-saving.

Hyposensitization by tablets

Similar to drop therapy, the doctor takes the first dose of hyposensitization through tablets. The tablets must be taken over at least three years for long-term success – long-term studies are still missing here. So far, the method can only be used for an allergy to grass pollen. However, tablets against other forms of allergy are also to be developed in the future.

However, in treating grass pollen allergy, the success rate for hyposensitization with tablets is significantly higher than for taking drops. The start of the allergy vaccination with tablets is now possible up to four weeks before the start of the flowering season.

Side effects of hyposensitization

Commonly, hyposensitization is associated with only minor side effects. If injected under the skin, the substance can cause redness, swelling and itching at the injection site. The pain can be quickly relieved by cooling the injection site, but it usually goes away after a few hours. If tablets or drops are taken, side effects can include swelling and itching in the mouth and throat. But here, too, the symptoms usually subside after a short time.

Since hyposensitization strains our immune system, general exhaustion can also occur on the day of treatment. Possible side effects of hyposensitization can be increased by exercise, alcohol or hot showers, so you should avoid doing this on the vaccination day.

Very rarely, an allergic shock can occur as a side effect of hyposensitization, which can have life-threatening consequences. For this reason, the patient is observed in the practice for half an hour during the injection therapy. You should inform your doctor if side effects occur during this time. In the case of treatment with drops and tablets, too, the first dose is taken in the doctor’s presence for safety reasons. Nevertheless, the patient should be informed about how to behave if side effects occur.


Hyposensitization: High success rates

Studies show that patients allergic to pollen, house dust mites or insect venom can benefit from hyposensitization. The treatment can usually relieve the patient’s symptoms permanently; in some cases, the symptoms can even disappear altogether. Despite successful treatment, the sensitivity to the allergen remains; only the immune system’s willingness to react to the substance recedes.

The extent to which hyposensitization is successful depends on the patient’s age and symptoms. Anyone suffering from hay fever for a long time and is allergic to several substances will probably achieve less success than a new allergy sufferer with a mild allergy.

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