Immunotherapy for allergic rhinitis (hayfever)

Spring is well and truly here, and for most people with allergic rhinitis (hayfever), symptoms are manageable and do not significantly interfere with one’s quality of life. However there are some who have more severe, debilitating symptoms requiring medications on a regular basis to control their symptoms. In Australia, the two commonest triggers of allergic rhinitis are dust mite and grasses (in NSW/Victoria, rye, bermuda and bahia grasses, are the commonest triggers of seasonal allergic rhinitis).

For those with severe allergic rhinitis, we often discuss the option of aero-allergen immunotherapy (also called desensitisation). This is the regular administration of commercially prepared airborne allergens extracts (e.g. house dust mite, grass, dog/cat dander, etc). Immunotherapy aims to re-educate the body’s immune system so that when the person is exposed to the allergen again, the immune system response to that allergen is dampened.  It is usually given as a 3 year course, either as regular injections into the subcutaneous tissue (fat) into the back of the arm (usually as monthly injections given by a doctor/nurse) or as daily drops/tablets under the tongue (which can be done at home).

Immunotherapy is proven to be an effective treatment to reduce symptoms of allergic rhinitis, based on randomised control trials. Its effects are long lasting and most individuals only need to do it once in their lifetime. Currently immunotherapy is not on the PBS and there is an out of pocket cost (usually allergens produced for injections are cheaper than the tablets/drops).

So if you are suffering with allergic rhinitis and it is interfering with your day to day quality of life, and you are sick of taking medications regularly, then see an experienced Allergist to perform blood tests/skin tests to determine what you may be reacting to and then potentially discuss the pros and cons of immunotherapy.