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Immunotherapy: Finding Long-term Allergy Relief in Charlotte, NC

What is Immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is a type of medical treatment that harnesses the body’s own immune system to combat diseases and medical conditions. It’s brought significant advancements in treatments for many diseases and conditions, including treating cancer and supporting organ recipients after transplant surgeries. But for more than a century, immunotherapy has offered relief to allergy sufferers.

For people who suffer with allergies, immunotherapy can help relieve symptoms through allergy shots. To do so, known allergens are injected gradually over a period of time until the maximum tolerated level is achieved. During the process, immunotherapy slowly retrains your immune system to tolerate the known allergens so that your allergic reactions become much less severe. This doesn’t cure allergies, but it offers significant relief from symptoms.

Successful immunotherapy is dependent upon an accurate determination of a patient’s entire allergen sensitivities, as well as the correct formulation, handling and mixing of the patient’s specific allergen extract.

What is Accelerated Immunotherapy?

Accelerated immunotherapy, also known as cluster allergy shots, is an alternative to traditional allergy shots that speeds up the timeline of the injections and the results. Instead of the usual three- to six-month buildup phase, accelerated immunotherapy delivers the buildup phase in just two to three months. In this situation, the buildup period is used to produce rapid desensitization to allergens.

The schedule of shots during rapid desensitization will vary, based on individual needs and allergist recommendations. In general, the timeline can include up to three shots in one day. Each individual shot in accelerated immunotherapy is the equivalent of multiple traditional allergy shots. This means that your body learns to build a tolerance to allergens more quickly.

After rapid desensitization, patients receive maintenance shots at a decreasing interval similar to the maintenance period in traditional allergy shot therapy.

Benefits of accelerated immunotherapy, or cluster allergy shots, include:

  • Reduced time in the build-up phase of treatment
  • Faster relief from allergy symptoms
  • Long-term decrease in the frequency and severity of allergy symptoms

Whether accelerated immunotherapy is an effective option for a patient depends on several factors, including their type of allergies, their health, and their tolerance to injections. To learn if you’re a good candidate for cluster allergy shots, speak to your allergist at Carolina Asthma & Allergy.

What is Cluster Immunotherapy?

Often referred to as “accelerated immunotherapy,” cluster immunotherapy is a popular alternative to traditional allergy shots. Standard allergy immunotherapy protocols involve a buildup phase of three to six months. While effective, many patients would like to achieve results more rapidly. This is where cluster immunotherapy comes into play.

Cluster immunotherapy allows patients to experience the benefits of allergy shots much faster.

During the therapy, patients typically receive two or three injections in 30-minute intervals. The entire visit will usually last about two hours.

By administering the allergy shots in “clusters,” the staff is able to provide patients with a month’s worth of immunotherapy in a single visit.

When is Cluster Immunotherapy Used?

Cluster immunotherapy is used as a faster alternative to traditional allergy therapy. Ideal candidates include patients who suffer from multiple allergen-related conditions and are unable to avoid potential irritants.

Cluster immunotherapy offers several distinct benefits to allergy sufferers, including:

  • Reduced build-up phase
  • Faster relief from allergy-related conditions
  • Long-term reduction in the severity of allergy symptoms
  • Long-term reduction in the frequency of allergy symptoms

If a patient is suffering from allergies and is dependent upon multiple medications to manage their symptoms, then they are likely a good candidate for immunotherapy, possibly via the cluster schedule.

Cluster Immunotherapy Schedule

The needs of each patient are completely unique. As a result, every cluster immunotherapy protocol will vary based on the treatment requirements of the patient.

While the exact formula of each shot will be different, the cluster immunotherapy protocols as a whole are relatively similar.

A standard schedule may appear as follows:

  • Week 1: Two clusters of three injections with at least one day between visits
  • Week 2: One day of three cluster injections and one day of two cluster injections
  • Week 3: One day of two cluster injections
  • Week 4: One day of two cluster injections
  • Week 5: One day of two cluster injections
  • Week 6: One maintenance dose
  • Weeks 7-10: One maintenance dose at 5 to 7 day intervals

The staff at the Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center provides every patient with a custom treatment protocol. While the schedule outlined above is common with cluster immunotherapy, your exact injection schedule will be designed to offer the maximum potential benefit for your unique conditions.

If you would like to learn more, contact our office to schedule an appointment.

What are Allergy Shots?

Allergy shots are also known as subcutaneous immunotherapy (SCIT), which refers to immunotherapy that’s administered through an injection beneath the skin. Each allergy shot contains various allergens that the individual is known to be allergic to, and treatment begins with very small doses of those allergens. As the allergy shot treatment progresses, each shot gives the body a small amount of exposure to the allergen in gradually increasing dosages. The goal of the treatment is to slowly adjust how the immune system reacts to those allergens, which in turn lessens allergy symptom severity.

Prior to starting immunotherapy for an allergy patient, a doctor will identify the allergens that the patient is allergic to by conducting a skin prick or intradermal test. Immunotherapy works by gradually injecting doses of these allergens in the form of a shot, which leads to the immune system becoming less sensitive to the substance. With time, individuals who receive immunotherapy will experience fewer and less severe allergy symptoms.

Allergy shots often become effective over a period of months or even years. The treatment begins with frequent allergy shots, typically once or twice a week, then decreases so you receive shots less often. The entire allergy shot build-up phase will occur over a period of about three to six months, but it can continue for years, depending on your allergist’s recommendations. Accelerated immunotherapy can condense this into a shorter timeframe.

What Allergies Can Be Treated with Immunotherapy?

Allergy shots are approved to treat multiple types of conditions, including:

  • Allergic rhinitisMost people know allergic rhinitis by its common name, hay fever. Hay fever encompasses allergic symptoms that primarily affect the nose. It causes congestion, a runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing, and coughing. Like allergic asthma, it’s commonly triggered by pollenmoldpetsdustmites, cockroaches, and other seasonal or perennial allergens.
  • Conjunctivitis: Conjunctivitis, or “pink eye,” is a type of allergy that affects the eyes, resulting in red, itchy, and watery eyes. It is usually caused by pollen, dust mites, and animal dander.
  • Allergic asthma: Allergic asthma is often caused by allergic reactions to cockroaches, dust mites, mold, pets, and pollen. This condition will cause asthma symptoms when a patient is exposed to the allergen.
  • Stinging insect allergies: Stinging insects that can create allergic responses include fire ants, hornets, paper wasps, honeybees, and yellow jackets.

To treat each of these types of allergies, allergy shots will isolate the precise allergens that an individual is sensitive to. For example, if you have allergic rhinitis caused by pollen and dust, allergy shots will gradually expose your body to small amounts of pollen and dust to help you build up a tolerance.

Unfortunately, food allergies are not treated with allergy shots due to the significant side effects and risks associated with the treatment for that usage. In addition, latex allergies and drug allergies are not effectively treated with immunotherapy.

How Effective is Immunotherapy?

The efficacy of immunotherapy varies, depending on the person, the severity of allergies, and how long the treatments are administered to the patient. In most cases, allergy shots are very effective. They can greatly decrease the sensitivity to allergens, reducing or eliminating the allergic symptoms. In addition, allergy shots can help prevent you from developing new allergies. They may even prevent asthma in children.

To maximize efficacy, we recommend that individuals who begin allergy shots stick with the treatment for at least a year, even if the results are minimal at first. It takes time for the immune system to get used to the allergens and to change its reaction. After a year, if you don’t notice an improvement, then you should talk to your allergist. They can assess why the allergy shots aren’t working and recommend more time or another form of treatment.

Risks and side effects of allergy shots are rare. A typical reaction may be some swelling or redness that appears at the injection site. Serious reactions are very rare, but include anaphylaxis. For that reason, most physicians ask patients to remain in the office about 30 minutes after the shot to monitor and ensure that no serious reactions occur.

It is important to consult with your allergist to see if immunotherapy is right for you.

What Should I Expect from Immunotherapy?

Before undergoing SCIT, you should speak with your allergist about what the source of your allergies. In most instances, the allergist may call for allergy testing using your skin or blood to better pinpoint the allergens causing your symptoms. They’ll also give you detailed information about allergy shots, the specific type of treatment you’ll be receiving, cost, and timeframe.

If you decide to move forward with the treatment, the allergist will prepare your personalized allergen extracts based on allergy testing. The allergy shots are never given at home; instead, your allergist or another medical professional will administer the shots in their office.

You receive the allergy shots on the back of your upper arms. Each shot will contain a combination of allergens. At first, individuals receive shots frequently – usually once or twice a week. During this build-up phase, the amount of allergen increases in each injection. Your allergist will determine how long the build-up phase lasts. It depends on how much of the allergen you’re receiving as well as what your max dose is that you’re working up to. During this stage, you may begin to feel a slight relief of allergy symptoms.

Once an effective dose is reached, you’ll enter a maintenance period, when your allergist will decrease the frequency of your shots. The time span between shots during the maintenance period will vary between different people. This is when a more significant improvement in allergy symptoms occurs. Learn more about what to expect here.

Immunotherapy and Allergy Shots in Charlotte

If you think your allergies are bad in Charlotte, you’re not alone. Our city ranks among the 50 worst cities for allergies, according to Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. It’s believed that about 30 percent of adults suffer from nasal allergies. Many people who haven’t had allergies before will begin to experience allergies once they move to Charlotte.

Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center is the area’s largest asthma and allergy practice that’s made up entirely of board-certified physicians, certified in Allergy & Immunology. Since the practice opened in 1952, we’ve helped adults and children overcome their allergies to allow them to breathe more easily – and live more easily. Contact us if you’d like to learn more about allergy shots in Charlotte and how Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center may help you.

Is Immunotherapy Covered by Insurance?

In most cases, health insurance will cover allergy shot treatment because it is an FDA-approved treatment. However, insurance coverage will depend on your provider and your plan. You may have a copay or deductible you need to meet first, in which case some or all expenses may be out-of-pocket.

Most individuals who undergo allergy shot treatment pay little to no money when the treatment is covered by insurance. For those that do not have coverage, SCIT therapy prices vary.

Is Immunotherapy Right for Me?

Most adults and children can receive allergy shots. However, young children under the age of five are not generally recommended for allergy shot treatment.

If you have allergies to stinging insects or you experience conjunctivitis, allergic asthma, and/or allergic rhinitis and other treatments have not worked, then you may consider allergy shots. Allergy shots are also a good option for individuals with severe or disruptive allergies because they can result in a noticeable improvement in quality of life.

Also, if you are looking for a way to decrease all of the allergy medications that you currently have to take – the tablets and the nasal sprays – allergy shots can offer an alternative therapy. They do require a time commitment over several months, though, so your time availability will be a factor in whether this is the right option for you.

Most commonly, an allergist will determine whether allergy shots are a good option for you depending upon the severity of your allergy symptoms, how well your symptoms are managed by your current medications, the length of the allergy season, and your preference to avoid long-term medication usage. Typically, if you suffer from allergy symptoms for more than three months each year and you’re unhappy with the relief that you get from your medicines, you may be a good candidate for allergy shots. If you have heart or lung disease, tell your allergist – this may increase risks of side effects with allergy shots.

If you would like to learn more about how allergy shots can help relieve your allergy symptoms, please make an appointment with one of our board-certified allergists to see if you are a good candidate.  This is your first step to leading a full life without worrying about your allergies!

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