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Is there a cure for allergies?

I’m asked this question frequently. 

Allergists tend to avoid the word “cure.”   Allergies can be “controlled” and to a certain extent “prevented,” but there currently is no treatment that can be considered a true cure.

Once a person has an allergy, the most important treatment is avoidance of that allergen.  After that, medications and allergy injections may be options depending on the specific allergic trigger.

Medication allergy: The approach is fairly straightforward.  Avoid the medication, use caution with medications that may have cross reactivity and find a suitable alternative.  If there is no suitable alternative, allergy desensitization in the hospital may be considered for some types of reactions, but the risks are high and long term tolerance may not be feasible or desired.

Environmental allergy: Avoidance measures are more limited and for pollen allergies sometimes not practical. After all, we can’t live in a bubble!  There are effective measures to reduce exposure to indoor allergens such as house dust mite, animal/pet dander and indoor mold.  Medications to treat the symptoms of allergies are useful for the majority of people, but of course the good effect of the medications stops when the medications are stopped.  Allergy injections are probably the closest treatment that comes close to “curing allergies.”  Allergen immunotherapy involves slowly increasing the dose of allergen extract over a period of time that can decrease the person’s allergic response.  The benefit is continued even after injections are stopped; this is called “disease modification.”

Food allergy:  Currently avoidance of the specific food is the only treatment that is standard-of-care.  There is much research being conducted on treating food allergies by oral desensitization or oral immunotherapy.  These studies have shown favorable outcomes, but there are still unanswered questions about who to treat, how long to treat, risks of treatment, etc.  I am hopeful that soon there will be clinical guidelines approved for treating food allergies by other than just avoidance and keeping your self-injectable epinephrine at hand.  Stay tuned!

Venom allergy:  Stinging insect reactions can be severe and even life threatening.  Avoidance measures and having self-injectable epinephrine are important, but venom immunotherapy (allergy injections to the venom of bee, yellow jacket, wasp or hornet) is the most effective treatment, decreasing the risk of a severe allergic reaction to a subsequent sting from 60% down to about 3%. That’s almost a “cure”!

At Family Allergy Asthma & Sinus Care, we provide information on treating allergies including the risks and benefits of each therapy, both short term and long term, for people of all ages.  Each person is given an individualized treatment plan, as no two people are the same (even identical twins can have different allergies!)

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