01/22/2015 05:09 pm ET Updated Mar 24, 2015

What Allergy Patients Need to Know About Immunotherapy

Understandably, many allergy sufferers are searching for a compelling and long-term solution to lessen their symptoms and improve their quality of life. There is one such treatment that, while effective, goes underutilized by the majority of allergy patients: immunotherapy.

Immunotherapy is the most powerful intervention in an allergist's arsenal. Unlike traditional medications, immunotherapy not only reduces symptoms but also has been show to change the natural history of allergic diseases.

Although extremely powerful and cost effective, very few patients choose immunotherapy, with lack of convenience the most commonly cited reason for not undergoing immunotherapy.

Immunotherapy is tailored to each individual based both on a person's allergic history and on skin and laboratory testing results. Immunotherapy is administered over two phases: build up and maintenance. The buildup phase requires once or even twice weekly visits to an allergist's office where a person receives ever-increasing concentration of immunotherapy. Once the person has reached maintenance (the highest dose), they return to the office only once a month.

The buildup phase can take six months or longer. The updosing schedule can take as little as eight weeks assuming patient comes to office three times a week, but can take up to 28 weeks or more if the come less frequently.

Rush immunotherapy (RIT) is an alternative to traditional immunotherapy and aims to reduce the amount of time in the buildup phase. In RIT, a patient receives injections over the course of four hours that move a patient through 40 percent of the immunotherapy. It potentially removes 20 visits to an allergist's office and saves not only time, but also money.

Patients will need to be evaluated by a physician before beginning rush immunotherapy, as there are some medical conditions that might prevent the patient from undergoing the procedure.

Rush immunotherapy is as safe as conventional immunotherapy. A 2004 meta-analysis of RIT vs. conventional immunotherapy showed similar reaction rates.

Patients interested in rush immunotherapy will need to speak with their allergist about the procedure, and some may encounter difficulty in finding a healthcare provider that offers this treatment. For example, in New York City Hudson Allergy is the only allergy practice in lower Manhattan to offer rush immunotherapy. Finding an allergist that provides immunotherapy is the first step in finding allergy relief.

For those that suffer from allergies, rush immunotherapy can offer several advantages over traditional allergy shots, such as faster relief and fewer difficulties due to shot reactions. Any patient interested in relieving their allergy symptoms should discuss rush immunotherapy with their allergist today.