Should you get injected for hay fever?

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Could an injection end the misery of hay fever?
Could an injection end the misery of hay fever?

It’s spring and you're already battling the first symptoms of those dreaded seasonal allergies (hay fever). You religiously take antihistamines and steam your nose to clear congestion, and painkillers are an indispensable part of getting through most days.

You're at your wit’s end and you'd give your eye teeth for something that can stop these allergies for good.

What if there were a shot, just like the flu shot, which could be taken to avoid the onset of seasonal allergies?

Fighting allergies with allergens

Allergy immunotherapy does exist, but how effective is it? Often administered in the form of shots, it is used to get your body accustomed to the allergens that cause your symptoms. This treatment may be considered for people who suffer from allergies for months on end, with medication bringing no relief.

"Immunotherapy for hay fever [allergic rhinitis] involves receiving a high dose of grass pollen vaccine either as a monthly injection or as a daily pill placed under the tongue," says Dr Stephen Durham, a professor of allergy and respiratory medicine at Imperial College in London, England.

Dr Adrian Morris, Health24's resident allergy expert and esteemed South African allergist, confirms that grass pollen systemic desensitisation immunotherapy (SIT) and sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) are the only two potential curative treatments available in South Africa.

He goes on to explain that it is not a "quick fix" – it will not offer immediate relief from symptoms, and treatment spans three years.

Steroids also an option

Besides treating hay fever with grass pollen systemic desensitisation immunotherapy (SIT), there is also the option of steroid injections or tablets to help control symptoms. This is referred to as the Kenalog injection.

Unfortunately steroids aren’t without risks and can include side-effects such as swelling, breathing difficulties, itchy skin and rashes. However, the dose of steroids administered tends to be low and side-effects should be a rare occurrence.

What does the South African expert say?

Dr Morris says the following about the availability of SIT and SLIT treatment for hay fever in South Africa: “Disappointingly this curative treatment is marketed with difficulty in South Africa and still hasn't received the 'green light' from the South African Medicines Control Council."

According to Dr Morris, the treatment has to be arranged on a “Named Patient” basis, which can be a slow process.

That being said, he mentions that the result may be worth the effort in the end. If you are struggling to keep your seasonal allergies under control, it is recommended that you visit an allergy specialist when over-the-counter medications aren't controlling your symptoms.

Alternatives in the meantime

While the administration of allergic immunotherapy might be time-consuming and will not provide fast relief, you should talk to your doctor about changing your current medication in the meantime to keep your symptoms under control.

In conjunction with medication, you can also try the following practical tips to deal with spring allergies:

  • Avoid clothing from synthetic fabrics as these can create static that attracts pollen. Choose natural fibres, such as cotton, which stay drier and are less likely to create mould spores.
  • Choose your outdoor exercise time wisely – before dawn and in the late afternoon when the pollen count is at its lowest.
  • Take an antihistamine 30 minutes before you engage in outdoor activities.
  • Try to eliminate pollen brought into the home by changing clothes and taking off shoes as soon as you walk indoors.
  • Vacuum your house regularly and keep linen clean to eliminate any pollen that might have been brought in.
  • Keep indoor air as pure as possible by using an air purifier.
  • Keep track of the pollen count in your area. This can be done with the help of weather apps.

Image credit: iStock

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