Treatment Options: Desensitization and Tolerance to Food Allergens
The good news is there are ways to test for food and airborne allergens and, even better news, to desensitize or train your immune system to ignore common “offenders” that it doesn’t need to worry about!
One treatment that retrains your immune system is something called “Allergy Immunotherapy.” The concept was based on Native American populations that would eat poison ivy leaves in order to reduce the effects of an immune response. The ultimate goal of treatment is “tolerance”, which is the ability to ingest certain foods without allergic symptoms.
There are various forms of Allergy Immunotherapy. The more commonly known method is Subcutaneous ImmunoTherapy (SCIT), also known as “allergy desensitization shots” where patients go to an allergy specialist who administers injections.
Initially, patients have to go every week to get their shots, and then it’s spaced out to monthly injections. In order to obtain tolerance, monthly injections need to be kept up for about 3-5 years. Typically, a lot of patients fall off the wagon and don’t see this treatment through to its end, due to it being an inconvenience.
Luckily, there are other forms of allergy immunotherapy, dosed orally, offering more convenience and effectiveness.
Oral ImmunoTherapy (OIT)
OIT involves the daily administration of food allergens in milligrams to grams dosing, in gradually increasing doses over months to years. Recent trials have shown efficacy and safety data as well as compelling evidence that OIT frequently induces desensitization, and possibly even tolerance, in patients with food allergies2.
Sublingual ImmunoTherapy (SLIT)
Similarly, another form of oral immunotherapy involves the administration of small drops of allergen extract under the tongue – hence “SubLingual ImmunoTherapy.” Like OIT, treatment involves administering gradually increasing doses of the allergen over time.
Doses are approximately 1000-times less than OIT doses, but SLIT protocols include similar escalation and similar outcomes as OIT.
What’s good about OIT and SLIT is desensitization occurs via daily self-administration conveniently administered at home. Since patients don’t have to travel to a clinic there is greater compliance and consistency of treatment, leading to faster treatment outcomes.