Eczema, allergic rhinitis and asthma are the most widely seen allergic problems in children. Over the years, severe symptoms have been tackled by steroids and antihistamine, but their side effects are a concern for parents. More worrying is the fact that allergies seem to be lifelong and hard to get rid of.
Theoretically, avoiding allergens is the best way to prevent allergic reactions, but substances like dust mites and pollens are difficult to be contained.
Allergen immunotherapy, also known as desensitization, has been around for over a hundred years but it is only in recent decades that the technique has been widely applied.
Similar to the mechanism of getting vaccines, allergy shots containing a small amount of substances that the body is allergic to are injected so that the body would get used to the allergens and gradually develops immunity against them.
There are two kinds of immunotherapy, either through subcutaneous injection or sublingual injection. The treatment takes two to three years to complete but the efficacy can last for ten years or even longer. It has significant results among children and adults who suffer from allergic rhinitis. It works for asthma and eczema patients, too.
Not only can immunotherapy effectively treat a particular allergy, it would also reduce conditions associated with other allergies. Research shows that immunotherapy can help slow down or even stop subsequent allergies from developing.
If an allergic reaction of eczema is identified and treated earlier in pediatric patients, their chance of getting allergic rhinitis or asthma would be much reduced, preventing the so-called Allergy March from happening.
The near-fatal reactions to allergy shots had once fueled skepticism toward allergen immunotherapy and hindered its development, but such incidences have greatly reduced now.
Allergy shots are now almost always safe if given correctly, though redness, warmth and itchiness in a partial area can still be expected. With advances in biotechnology, allergen immunotherapy would in future serve people with fewer side effects and better efficacy.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 6
Translation by John Chui
[Chinese version 中文版]
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