What is Immunotherapy and Will it Cure My Allergies?

If you’re a victim of seasonal or perennial hay fever, you know how annoying exposure to your allergens can be. All of that sneezing, congestion, watery eyes, and itchy nose put a damper on daily life. Collectively, these symptoms are called allergic rhinitis, thought to affect as many as 50 million people in the United States.

When it comes to preventing hay fever, your options are limited. You can try to limit — or avoid — your exposure to your specific allergens or you can try to manage the symptoms using medications such as antihistamines to control allergy-related reactions. For people with allergic rhinitis, allergen immunotherapy — commonly referred to as allergy shots — is an effective way to reduce the severity of symptoms. In some cases, the treatment permanently decreases your sensitivity to your allergens, even after you’ve finished immunotherapy.

At Lexington ENT & Allergy, located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, Dr. Alexa Lessow, has helped countless New Yorkers breathe easier with immunotherapy. 

How allergy shots work

The substances that trigger allergic reactions, such as pollen, for example, send your body into combat mode to fight off their effects. An allergic reaction is an overreaction of your immune system because its response isn’t efficiently handling the presence of the allergen.

Immunotherapy works similarly to vaccines. Once an allergen is identified, Dr. Lessow injects a tiny amount of that allergen to help you develop either tolerance or immunity to that substance. There are two phases to immunotherapy treatment.

The first phase is a series of injections with increasing amounts of allergen exposure. Once your body can handle a tiny bit, it has the resources to tackle a little more. Injections in the build-up phase may occur once or twice a week, and they generally continue for 3-6 months.

The second phase consists of a maintenance dose beginning after you reach the maximum dose at the end of the build-up period. Injections may be spaced further apart, continuing a controlled exposure to allergens at this newer dose. While it’s possible you may experience symptom relief during the build-up phase, it may take up to a year before the maintenance dose produces noticeable improvements. The maintenance period typically lasts 3-5 years.

Beyond allergic rhinitis

It’s best known for treating seasonal allergies like hay fever, but immunotherapy can also address year-round allergies, such as so-called “indoor” allergies to animal dander, mold, or dust mites. If you’re allergic to stinging insects, allergy shots can reduce or eliminate your sensitivity to bites and stings.

To learn more about how immunotherapy may help you, call or book a consultation online with Dr. Lessow, either by calling the office or requesting a consultation online.