Treatment: Desensitisation (Immunotherapy)

Desensitisation (immunotherapy) is the only treatment that can change the natural history of allergy to pollen, house dust mites, pets and venom.

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What is desensitisation?

Desensitisation, also called immunotherapy, is an effective treatment for severe allergy: hay fever symptoms caused by aeroallergens (grass and tree pollen, house dust mites, pets etc) and anaphylaxis to insect venom (bee, wasp/hornet). It is the only treatment that can change the natural history of the allergic diseases. It reduces severe allergy symptoms in the medium to long term and in some patients it improves symptoms of allergic asthma.

Why is desensitisation done?

Desensitisation is the treatment of choice for patients with a severe allergy to pollen, pets, house dust mites and insect venom. You may be considered for immunotherapy if:

  • You have life-threatening reactions to bee or wasp/hornet venom
  • You have severe seasonal allergy to tree pollen and/or grass pollen
  • Your have severe perennial (all year) allergy to house dust mites or pets
  • You cannot control your symptoms with medication alone and are unable to avoid the allergen that causes your reactions
  • Your allergy medications cause side effects or interact with other medicines you take
  • You want to reduce your long-term use of allergy medication

Preparing for desensitisation

Before immunotherapy can be considered, your consultant allergist will assess your symptoms during a consultation and  perform allergy tests such as a skin prick test and/or a blood test to identify the exact allergen(s) that cause your symptoms.

What does desensitisation involve?

Allergy develops when your immune system responds to a substance that normally does not cause any problems (e.g. allergy to grass pollen or house dust mites). During immunotherapy you will receive a dose of that allergen at a regular interval to teach the immune system to tolerate it, with the aim of significantly reducing symptoms.

There are two main types of immunotherapy:

Sublingual immunotherapy (grass pollen, tree pollen, house dust mites, pets): an allergen extract is given under the tongue in the form of tablets or drops. The first dose of treatment is given under the supervision of an allergist but the following doses are taken at home. Sublingual immunotherapy is usually taken every day for a total of 3 years.

Subcutaneous immunotherapy (aeroallergens but mainly insect venom): a series of injections in the upper arm are given over 3 years. For safety reasons, every single dose is administered by an allergist with a period of observation after each injection.

Effect of desensitisation

Allergy symptoms will not disappear overnight with either type of immunotherapy. However, the effect of both forms of immunotherapy can last for years after the treatment has finished, with many patients reporting less need for anti-allergy medication. It can reduce the negative impact of allergy on your quality of life and activities of daily living. The effectiveness of treatment varies from person to person – some people may see significant results in the early stages of treatment and some only after 3 years of treatment.

Desensitisation risks

Both types of immunotherapy carry a degree of risk, but this will be assessed and well-managed by your specialist to ensure you receive the best treatment possible.

Mild side effects include:

  • A mild rash at the site of injection (subcutaneous immunotherapy)
  • Itching and swelling in the mouth (sublingual immunotherapy)
  • Sneezing, watery eyes or mild asthma symptoms
  • Tiredness and headaches

These side effects are usually mild and resolve after a short time often with no need for treatment.

In extremely rare cases, you may experience anaphylaxis (dizziness, breathlessness, vomiting). The risk is higher (but still very low) with subcutaneous/injectable immunotherapy. At OneWelbeck Skin Health and Allergy we are fully equipped to treat anaphylaxis.

Treatment Costs

Please contact the centre for pricing.

Treatment Programme
Desensitisation (Immunotherapy)


Consultation Required

For this treatment you will need to have a 1-to-1 consultation at OneWelbeck first. To book in with our team of expert clinicians or to find out more about the process contact the relevant centre team.


Self Referral

No doctor referral needed in order to book this service, although health insurers may require a referral in order for your treatment to be covered.


Self-Pay Available

This treatment is available for self-paying users. If you would like to see more information on pricing visit our pricing and payments page.