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Immunotherapy Helps Allergy Sufferers

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When over-the-counter pills are ineffective, immunotherapy may be a better solution. When over-the-counter pills are ineffective, immunotherapy may be a better solution.

If you are one of the millions of allergy sufferers in Oklahoma, you have likely been sneezing and coughing your way through this fall season. There may be hope, however, in the form of immunotherapy.

Oklahoma City has been on "very high alert" for ragweed for more than a month now because mild winters means those plants have not died. Over-the-counter pills only go so far, so many people seek out long-lasting relief at the Oklahoma Allergy and Asthma Clinic. Doctors say they have seen an exponential increase in patients over the last three years, and have seen ragweed plants up to 10 times their normal size.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” said Dr. Laura Chong. “When you have rain it kind of helps the pollen count go down temporarily, but then the mold spore count goes up. But then it can also help things like the grasses and the weeds grow quite well and then you pay for it later on.”

In an initial clinic appointment, if a patient has asthma, clinicians will test lung function first by having them breathe into a tube. Next comes a skin test of all the allergens Oklahoma has to offer. A nurse pricks the patient’s forearms with dozens of liquids representing weeds, trees, grasses, molds and more. She will test for any known food allergens as well.

The allergens stay on the skin for 15 minutes, causing welts where the patient is allergic. From there, the doctor can measure the welts and create a serum of the allergens that most irritate the patient.

The clinic will bring patients in for weekly allergy shots that increase in strength.

“This is not giving you medication. It’s giving you what you’re allergic to, so if you try to build the immunity to these allergens you’re trying to train the immune system to say, ‘Hey, this is not straining me anymore. This is neutral. I’m now tolerant to these,’” said Chong.

For those with a fear of needles, immunotherapy is available in oral dissolvable tablet form for grasses only. Most immunotherapy cycles last three to five years, which may sound like a long time, but patients say it is totally worth it.

“I have some asthma, so I’ve just had a little bit of a cough sometimes, but for the most part I’ve been a lot better off,” said longtime immunotherapy patient, Kayleigh Peters.

Patients with severe allergies are recommended to always carry an EpiPen, the makers of which have faced backlash for recent increases in cost.

“We as allergists, have actually talked to these companies and said, ‘This is a major issue. These are life-saving medications that people need,'” said Chong.

Clinicians also give you tips to decrease the number of allergens in your home to reduce suffering. To learn more about immunotherapy, click here.

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