What does “specific immune therapy” mean?

Specific immune therapy or hyposensitisation is basically nothing other than an allergy vaccine. Not only does this type of treatment reduce the symptoms, it also tackles the cause of your allergy: an over-reaction of your immune system. By opting for this treatment, you grasp your allergy by the roots.

The principle is simple: In an allergy, the immune system is reacting to substances that are, in effect, harmless. Defence cells wrongly categorise these substances as harmful. This overreaction can be reduced by the process of hyposensitisation. Through confrontation with controlled quantities of a specific allergen, the defence cells become accustomed to these allergens. In this respect, hyposensitisation is a type of training – towards higher tolerance.

Specific immune therapy may be carried out in the form of either injections or drops or tablets.

The difference between subcutaneous immune therapy (SCIT) and sublingual immune therapy (SLIT) is in the manner of application. Subcutaneous immune therapy is carried out using an injection, whereby the allergen is injected into the subcutaneous fatty tissue. In sublingual immune therapy, the allergen is applied under the tongue in the form of either drops or tablets. High doses of immune formulations are used in both cases.

Starting from when and for how long is the specific immune therapy carried out?
The treatment can be started from approximately age 5, if corresponding symptoms such as allergic hay fever, conjunctivitis or bronchial asthma are present. The doctor carries out a range of tests before the start of the treatment to determine which allergens are responsible for the disorder. This stage also includes checking for accompanying illnesses which could obstruct a specific immune therapy. If all findings of the tests are in favour of the treatment, it should be started without delay. Your doctor will define the exact timeframe.

The treatment time is usually about 3 years, but you will already notice a perceptible improvement during the first year of treatment. Among other factors, the duration depends how well the increasing doses of allergen solution are tolerated and how quickly the symptoms subside. A quick reduction in symptoms should not entice you to terminate the therapy prematurely however, since long-term success depends to a significant extent on the duration of therapy. The timeframe of 3-5 years sounds long, but bear in mind that treatments using medications such as cortisone have to be carried out for a patient’s whole lifetime and are not free from side effects. The close collaboration between patient and doctor is extremely important.

Does the specific immune therapy also have unwanted effects?
Like any other treatment, the specific immune therapy may lead to unwanted reactions. The doctor with experience in allergology knows all measures and has access to resources to treat side effects. Before the start of therapy, the doctor talks to the patient about what requires special attention.

Slight skin reactions (redness and swelling) at the injection point are relatively frequent, but usually harmless. Any significant swelling of the arm must be observed in the practice and possibly locally treated. In such cases, a reduction in the dose will usually be required.

In rare cases, general reactions such as itchy skin, rash, coughing or shortness of breath, palpitations or dizziness may occur. A life-threatening circulatory shock is seen even more rarely. This may occur if small quantities of the allergen solution enter the bloodstream despite all precautions. In such cases, the doctor will carry out the necessary shock treatment without losing any time.