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Fighting Allergies

How Immunotherapy Can End Your Allergies

Girl in park with allergies, her dad, and their dog
Girl in park with allergies, her dad, and their dog

Dr. Jason Lee

Clinical Immunology & Allergy Specialist, and Chair & CEO, Evidence Based Medical Educator

Dr. Anne Ellis

Director – Allergy Research Unit, Kingston General Hospital Research Institute

Allergy immunotherapy is the best treatment course to deal with the body’s immune reaction to an allergen. 

For those who suffer from hay fever (allergic rhinitis), summer flowers can often only be seen through blurred, watery eyes, while clutched fists hold wads of tissues as they fight sneezing fits and runny noses. 

While irritating, uncontrolled allergies can also lead to chronic asthma, and the figures are astounding. It’s estimated that 400 to 500 million people worldwide suffer from allergies, with about 10% of those having a debilitating form of the condition.

Dr. Jason Lee is a specialist in clinical immunology and allergy and internal medicine. “In Canada, we have higher rates of [allergic rhinitis] than in other parts of the world. The prevalence is two out of five patients on average,” he says. “Based on research, the range is 20 to 60% of people have allergies.”

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While many patients treat their allergies with antihistamines that help mask the symptoms, allergy immunotherapy is the best course to deal with the body’s reaction to an allergen.

“Allergy immunotherapy is a treatment that tries to change your underlying immune reaction to things like environmental allergens,” says Dr. Anne Ellis, Director of the Allergy Research Unit at the Kingston General Hospital Research Institute, as well as a professor and Chair of the division of Allergy and Immunology at Queen’s University.

 “Medications that people use, like antihistamines and nasal steroids to treat the symptoms of allergies, help mitigate the symptoms, but they don’t take away the underlying problem, which is the immune reaction to allergens,” Dr. Ellis continues.

Dr. Lee agrees. “An allergy is when your body reacts to something that’s benign because it has made a mistake in identifying the benign thing as something it needs to attack,” he says. “Immunotherapy trains the body to ignore the benign by introducing small, controlled amounts of the allergen so that the body will eventually learn to not have the allergic response to it.”

Allergy immunotherapy […] tries to change your underlying immune reaction to things like environmental allergens.

Dr. Anne Ellis, Kingston General Hospital Research Institute


The concept of immunotherapy has been around for over 100 years. Allergen immunotherapy by injection was invented in the US in 1911 by Newman Freeman, and is referred to as subcutaneous immunotherapy (SCIT). “Obviously, it’s been refined over the years, but allergen immunotherapy has been a mainstay of treatment offered by allergists for many, many years,” says Dr. Ellis.

The newest form of allergy immuno-therapy is sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT). “The sublingual tablets have been on the Canadian market since about 2014,” says Dr. Ellis. “The advantage of the tablets is that rather than needing a weekly injection at a doctor’s office, you can take daily tablets at home, after the initial dose has been taken at your doctor’s office.”

To date, sublingual tablets are available to treat grass, ragweed and house mite allergies. To find out if you’re a good candidate for SLIT, talk to your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist to determine the best option.

Allergy immunotherapy infographics
ALK Canada infographic
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