Allergy represents an “inappropriate” immune response to a generally harmless substance. It is a problem that is increasing in modern societies. Besides the typical allergic conditions like asthma, eczema, and hives, allergy may be involved in headache, bowel problems, and even urinary symptoms.
- Allergies make many existing problems worse
- Allergies initiate or trigger a variety of serious disorders
- Allergies create symptoms that mimic those of many other disorders
At Bock Integrative Medicine, we try to determine not only what the person is reacting to, but also why the immune system is misbehaving in the first place. Before resorting to medication, we can often treat with natural or nutritional approaches.
Desensitization is a way to train the immune system not to react allergically. Instead of the weekly allergy shots performed by allergists, we employ cutting-edge techniques such as sublingual immunotherapy (drops under the tongue) or low-dose allergen therapy (shots given 3-4 times per year).
Allergy desensitization involves the delivery of antigen (the compound to which we are allergic) to the immune system by a different route. For example, pollen causes an allergic (IgE) reaction when we inhale it, but if we deliver it to the immune system as an injection, a different reaction takes place. The immune system makes a ‘blocking’ (non IgE) antibody, and when we’re exposed to pollen this ‘blocking’ antibody binds to the pollen and prevents an IgE (allergic) reaction.
There are two problems with the usual desensitization. First, no one likes getting injections, and having to go to the allergist’s office all the time. Second, injections can still deliver antigen to the IgE branch of the immune system which can cause allergic reactions, sometimes severe.
Another way to ‘present’ antigen to the immune system is to administer drops under the tongue where there are very few allergically reacting cells. This delivery system is therefore safer and can also be done at home, hence avoiding repeat visits to the doctor’s office. This Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT) can be used to eliminate inhalant allergies such as dust, mold, and pollen, as well as food allergies, although it’s not generally used for severe, anaphylactic reactions such as those involving peanuts.
The drops are given between one and three times per day and rarely cause any side effects. Although benefit can be seen in weeks to months, the drops are generally continue for at least two years. SLIT has been offered at our center for a number of years and represents a significant advance in the treatment of allergic conditions.