Allergen immunotherapy and allergic rhinitis: false beliefs
1 Section of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Imperial College London - National Heart and Lung Institute, Royal Brompton Hospital, Dovehouse Street, London, UK
2 London Allergy Clinic, New Cavendish Street, London, UK
3 Allergy Division, Pneumology Department, INSERM U657-University Hospital of Montpellier, Avenue du Doyen Gaston Giraud, Montpellier, France
BMC Medicine 2013, 11:255 doi:10.1186/1741-7015-11-255Published: 5 December 2013
Over the last 100 years, several persistent misconceptions or ‘false beliefs’ have built up around allergen immunotherapy and its use in allergic rhinitis. This is perhaps because enthusiastic physicians administered complex allergen extracts to a diverse population of patients suffering from heterogeneous atopic conditions. Here, we review evidence that counters seven of these ‘false beliefs.’
1. The symptoms of allergic rhinitis can be more heterogeneous, more severe and more troublesome in everyday life than many physicians believe. Large-scale epidemiological surveys show that the majority of allergic rhinitis patients have at least one symptom severe enough to interfere with sleep quality, productivity and/or well-being. 2. Allergen immunotherapy is not necessarily suitable for all allergic rhinitis patients (notably those with mild symptoms). Recent evidence from double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trials suggests that the more severe the disease, the greater the treatment effect. 3. Allergen immunotherapy is often accused of lack of efficacy (relative to pharmacotherapy, for example). However, there are now many meta-analyses, systematic reviews and high-quality clinical trials that find overwhelmingly in favor of the efficacy of allergen immunotherapy (including sublingual formulations) in allergic rhinitis induced by pollen and, increasingly, other allergens. 4. Natural-exposure and challenge-chamber trials have shown that symptom relief may become apparent within months or even weeks of the initiation of allergen immunotherapy. 5. In pollen-induced allergic rhinitis, several years of subcutaneous or sublingual allergen immunotherapy are associated with sustained clinical efficacy after subsequent treatment cessation – confirming the disease-modifying nature of this therapy. 6. Most patients seeking treatment for allergic rhinitis are polysensitized, and allergen immunotherapy has proven efficacy in large, robust clinical trials in these groups. Polysensitization is not a contraindication to allergen immunotherapy. 7. Sublingual allergen immunotherapy is safe for home administration. A recent review calculated that 1 billion doses were administered worldwide between 2000 and 2010 and found that the 11 case reports of anaphylaxis (all non-fatal) corresponded to non-standard practice.
Modern, evidence-based medicine has generated more than enough robust evidence to remove misconceptions about allergen immunotherapy and allergic rhinitis.