More than 50 million Americans suffer from allergies, and as pollen production grows in intensity and duration due to longer freeze-free periods, that number is expected to rise. For chronic allergy sufferers, this can mean battling symptoms year-round, year after year.
Allergies pose health risks beyond stuffy noses and itchy, watery eyes. Those with intense symptoms find their quality of life drastically affected, leading to missed school and work days, or even emergency room visits. Severe allergy sufferers may experience intense congestion, sneezing, hives or eczema, plus difficulty breathing.
Of the 26 million Americans who suffer from asthma, around 60% have allergic asthma, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, meaning that the serious, life-threatening respiratory distress of asthma is triggered by allergic reactions to pollen and other substances.
Over-the-counter antihistamines and other allergy medications can provide temporary relief, but long-term relief requires finding a specialist for inconvenient office treatments, often multiple times a week for years. Or does it?
Immunotherapy at home
The standard of care for allergy treatment, immunotherapy, was introduced in 1911 based on the positive results of vaccines that produced protection against infectious diseases such as smallpox. Scientists recognized that they could induce immunity and build tolerance to allergens by injecting hay fever patients with pollen they were allergic to.
Today, only 20% of allergy sufferers see an allergy specialist. And those that do must stick to a regimented schedule of frequent in-office visits for treatment for it to be effective. But innovation in allergy immunotherapy means patients can be tested by their general practitioner instead of seeking out a specialist, and then conduct their own treatment at home. That makes it more convenient to seek treatment and commit to the immunotherapy protocol as it helps their bodies build up resistance to the allergens that affect their lives. At-home immunotherapy allows allergy sufferers to treat themselves over time.
“The biggest challenge is getting a patient to stay consistent with treatment. With the traditional method, it’s a huge inconvenience and time commitment to have to go to an allergist’s office sometimes hundreds of times over the course of years to make a difference,” says Dr. Hormazd Sanjana, of Castle Hills Family Practice in San Antonio, who has incorporated allergy immunotherapy treatment into his practice.
“To be able to provide better access to treatment to my patients, and a way for them to conveniently administer it to themselves on their time, where they are most comfortable, is a game changer.”
How does immunotherapy treatment work?
The largest provider of immunotherapy services, United Allergy Services, has been working with physicians to create and administer custom treatments for patients since 2009. More than 500 primary care providers offer UAS testing and treatment in their offices.
- First, an onsite allergy specialist tests for the 48 most common allergens.
- After triggers are identified, doses of the allergen are mixed for the patient to gradually expose him or her to very small amounts.
- The physician and Clinical Allergy Specialist guide the patient through at-home immunotherapy administration and the myAllergyPal app helps patients see test results, track doses and receive helpful tips between check-in visits.
- With exposure to increasing amounts at regular intervals over the course of treatment, the body is gradually desensitized to those triggers that once caused uncomfortable or debilitating symptoms.
Up to 85% of patients on United Allergy Services’ treatment program start seeing results within 12 months, some in half that time. With continued treatment for up to three years, patients can then discontinue doses and experience long-term relief.
“I have lived with allergies my entire life and now I have almost no symptoms,” said Tiffany Conner of North Carolina. Going through at-home immunotherapy treatment was the best decision I could have made.”
For help finding a primary physician in your area that offers UAS testing and treatment, visit unitedallergyservices.com.