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What does desensitisation involve?

Desensitisation (immunotherapy) is the only treatment that can change the natural history of allergy to pollen, house dust mites, pets and venom. It is an effective and evidence-based treatment for severe forms of allergy not responsive to standard anti-allergic treatment.

Immunotherapy can improve the symptoms of severe seasonal or perennial hay fever (allergic rhinoconjunctivitis) and allergic asthma. Many patients who receive this treatment report less need for anti-allergy medication.

There are two main types of immunotherapy:

Subcutaneous immunotherapy: a series of injections over the period of 5-7 weeks per year for 3 years (grass and tree pollen) or much more often for venom allergy. For safety reasons it must be administered by an allergist/allergy nurse with a period of observation after each injection.

Sublingual immunotherapy: an allergen extract is given under the tongue (tablets/drops). The first dose of treatment is given under the supervision of an allergist. It allows to avoid the need for injections but it needs to be taken daily either all year or through the whole pollen season for a total of 3 years.

How effective is it?

The effect of both forms of immunotherapy lasts for years after the treatment has finished.

Food desensitisation in adults is still experimental but new licensed preparations for e.g. peanut desensitisation should become available in the next couple of years.