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Allergy Shots Keep Hitting Hay Fever for Years After Treatment Ends

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Nov. 16, 1999 (Seattle) -- People who have severe allergies to grass pollen might gain long-term relief by taking allergy shots instead of depending on large doses of antihistamines during hay fever season. A group of British researchers has found that immunotherapy -- the use of antibodies to boost the body?s immune system -- can give allergy sufferers up to three years of additional relief after the treatment has ended.

The study, published in a recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, offers the best evidence yet that allergy shots have a long-lasting effect -- and may even offer a potential cure for allergy sufferers. But researchers say that only people who have severe allergies, or those who are unable to take the antihistamines or topical steroids usually prescribed, are good candidates for the treatment.

Samantha Walker, RN, a doctoral student at the Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine at the University of London and an author of the study, tells WebMD the results show that immunotherapy produces a true change in the body?s immune system. "We don't fully understand it," she says, "but the response is markedly different." According to Walker, the results of the three-year study raise the possibility that the kind of protection that allergy shots offer can last a lifetime. But she says that more studies are needed to prove whether this is the case.

In an editorial accompanying the study, N. Franklin Adkinson Jr., MD, a professor of internal medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, says the results show that immunotherapy offers unique benefits. "This paper provides some very potent evidence that immunotherapy changes fundamentally the natural history of the disease," Adkinson tells WebMD -- in a way, he says, that doesn?t happen when traditional drug therapy is used.

Adkinson says that the best candidates for immunotherapy are people who have allergy symptoms at least six months out of the year or who don't get adequate relief from antihistamines and intranasal steroids. He says it's also a possible alternative for severe-allergy sufferers who are either unwilling or unable to take medications on a daily basis.

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