Monday, 16 June 2014

Doc Talk: Immunize Yourself Against Allergens

Source: Mind Your Body, The Straits Times - 12 June 2014.

This is a continuation from Doc Talk: The Flu that Isn't. In this write up, Dr Soh Jian Yee, an associate consultant at the division of paediatric allergy, immunology and rheumatology at National University Hospital talks about allergen immunotherapy. So what is allergen immunotherapy?

"A treatment which desensitizes the body to an allergen over time...It involves giving the patient the allergens which cause the medical problem, starting with tiny doses and slowly increasing the doses over time... Immunotherapy alters the body's response to the allergens to ease the symptoms and inflammation."

According to Dr Soh, immunotherapy has the following benefits:
1. Its beneficial effects last much longer than conventional pharmacotherapy (drugs)

2. If drugs fails to control the allergic symptoms, immunotherapy can be added to the treatment regimen

3. Long term cost-effectiveness

However, immunotherapy is not perfect. Why so?
1. Requires loads of patience as one must complete the treatment course to enjoy its full benefits.

2. Takes a longer time to work compared to antihistamines and intranasal steriods. Many patients see a significant response only after 3-6 months.

All said, in my opinion, most doctors generally recommend immunotherapy only for severe cases of allergic rhinitis as this method requires much time and financial commitment from the patients, which not many can do so. This is where sublingual immunotherapy comes into the picture. The patient is given a drop or tablet containing small doses of the allergen extract under the tongue. This newer form of immunotherapy can be administered at home without medical supervision. Has anyone tried this method before?