Groundhog Day is Excellent Time to Start Allergy Immunotherapy

Whether Groundhog Day reveals that spring is here or not, there's not a moment to lose in preparing to fight spring allergies.

Whether Groundhog Day reveals that spring is here or not, there’s not a moment to lose in preparing to fight spring allergies.

By the time you read this, Punxsutawney Phil will be out of the hole and we’ll know what’s in store for the next six weeks. Whether he saw his shadow and scampered back to take cover for more Winter or stayed above ground to enjoy the start of Spring, there is no time like NOW to start sublingual immunotherapy! If spring starts in six weeks, you have time to build up your immunity to pollens that get in the way of enjoying beautiful spring days. If it starts today, you’ll still feel better before the season hits full stride. How and why Phil makes his prediction is one of the mysteries of the universe but how and why immunotherapy treats allergies so effectively is no mystery at all…

If you have allergies, your immune system misinterprets something that’s normal in the environment as an enemy. As a result of this misunderstanding, it builds up a defense network to respond every time it sees that element (also called an antigen or allergen). That internal process is called sensitization, and the most common culprits are pollens from grasses, trees and weeds; pet dander; molds; and insect/inhalants like cockroach and dust mites. The next time your body sees that antigen, let’s use olive tree pollen as an example, it calls in the defense force for protection. All of the mucous, swelling and tearing you experience is your immune system doing a superb job of building a wall to keep the olive pollen out of your body. Scientifically speaking, your body is releasing histamine. Unfortunately, it’s not only unnecessary, since olive pollen isn’t actually an enemy, it’s extremely unpleasant! Fortunately there are solutions.

One solution is to use medications — typically antihistamines — that block your body’s misguided immune response. They create a constant battle within your body, wherein the allergen stimulates a response and tries to release histamine and the drug basically performs a block and tackle on your natural response. The result is that you usually feel better than the allergy but you often experience side effects. There are several other drugs that help with the symptoms but, in general, there is always at least a little downside to taking medication.

Luckily, there’s an alternative. We can teach the immune system that allergens aren’t enemies – this is the purpose of immunotherapy. It’s accomplished by gently and carefully introducing small amounts of the antigens to which your body is sensitized. Your immune system gets re-familiarized with these little particles. Little by little, we build up the levels of the antigen until your immune system is so used to it that it tolerates the normal amounts of environmental exposure. It takes a few months to get to that highest concentration – AllerVision calls it the maintenance level – which is why Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction is important to you.

Once you reach the maintenance dose, your tolerance will be greatly improved and your symptoms will hopefully disappear. Studies tell us that the body needs about four years of the constant exposure provided by immunotherapy for the so-called-enemy to be consistently ignored.

Immunotherapy can be delivered in shots – usually administered weekly in the doctor’s office – or sublingual (under the tongue) drops – at home on a daily basis. Many AllerVision providers offer both options, though most prefer the drops because they have very little risk for severe allergic reaction and they are so much more convenient for patients.

Whether Phil says yay or nay to an early Spring, get to your provider as soon as possible for an allergy test so he/she can find your allergic triggers and order an immunotherapy set designed specifically for you. There is plenty of stuff out there that your immune system SHOULD fight; take away the distraction of battling the normal environment and your system can focus all of its resources on keeping you healthy! (Click here to find a doctor who offers allergy testing and immunotherapy if your doctor does not.)

Happy Groundhog Day!

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