Infertility is a reproductive condition that affects approximately 10 to 15 percent of couples in the US. It occurs when an irregularity in the body’s reproductive system prevents the conception of a child. Infertility affects both men and women, so it’s possible for both partners to have a fertility issue that needs to be diagnosed and treated.
Infertility is generally treated with medications and surgery (about 85-90% of cases). Treatments can also include methods like weight loss, lifestyle changes, treating underlying conditions that can affect fertility, and even assisted reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Fertility medications can come in the form of pills, injectables, or vaginal suppositories. The type of fertility treatment prescribed depends on multiple factors, including the cause of infertility, a patient’s medical history, and his/her age.
What Types of Fertility Drugs Are Available?
Fertility Drugs for Women
Medications that stimulate ovulation:Ovulation stimulation drugs stimulate the production and release of certain hormones—GnRH (gonadotropin-releasing hormone), FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) and/or LH (luteinizing hormone)—in the body to prompt the ovaries to make eggs.
Hormones that control ovulation for the process of artificial insemination: During assisted reproductive technology (ART) treatments like IVF, certain drugs may be prescribed for different stages of the process. Hormones can be used to either stimulate or prevent ovulation, to help the body release several eggs at once, and to support early pregnancy.
Fertility Drugs for Men
Men’s fertility issues can stem from low levels of testosterone and high levels of estrogen. Low testosterone can affect the number of sperm cells the testicles produce, the health of the sperm cells, and the sperm’s ability for movement. The types of drugs used to treat male infertility include:
Medications that increase testosterone levels: Medications can be used to increase certain hormones in the body that then stimulate and increase the production of testosterone. Increasing testosterone levels helps the body increase sperm cell count (the number of sperm cells that are produced by the testicles).
Medications that decrease estradiol (estrogen) levels: Elevated estradiol (a type of estrogen) in men can affect sperm health. Certain medications can be used to prevent a process in the body where testosterone turns into estradiol. This results in decreased estradiol levels and increased testosterone, improving sperm count and sperm health.
Fertility Drugs for Treating Medical Conditions in Both Men and Women
Fertility drugs can also include medications used to treat underlying medical conditions that may be contributing to infertility.
Your doctor may choose to treat a condition before starting infertility treatment or to implement fertility treatment alongside treatment for the condition. Some examples of medical conditions that can affect infertility include:
An infection of the reproductive tract
Conditions of the thyroid
When Should You Seek Help for Infertility?
If you and your partner have been trying to conceive without having success for 12 months, talk to your doctor about possible fertility issues. Getting the right diagnosis is essential to creating a successful fertility treatment plan.
Cancer has traditionally been treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. But these treatments are often accompanied by painful side effects and, in addition to killing cancer cells, some of these treatments also kill the body’s healthy cells.
Researchers have been dedicated to finding new cancer treatment options that can be used in combination with traditional cancer treatments or alone. Immunotherapy, also called biologic therapy, is a relatively new treatment option for cancer patients that helps the body’s immune system kill cancer cells. What exactly is immunotherapy and how does it work? First, it’s important to understand how the body’s immune system works.
The Immune System Protects the Body From Harmful Infections, Even Cancer
Infections and illnesses can occur from bacteria, viruses, other microorganisms like parasites, and even genetic mutations. The immune system recognizes harmful substances that can make a person sick by identifying specific structures on the cell surface, called antigens. All cells have antigens, but the antigens on the body’s healthy cells are different than the antigens found on the cells of harmful substances. When the body recognizes a harmful cell, it sends special immune cells, called T cells, to attack it. There are many different types of immune cells that all work together to identify and attack threatening substances in the body.
The immune system is capable of identifying cancerous cells and fighting against them. But cancer cells can mutate and change in a way that makes them undetectable by the immune system. When this happens, cancer cells can divide and reproduce at a very fast rate.
How Does Immunotherapy Treat Cancer?
Immunotherapy works with the body to restore a compromised immune system or to modify and strengthen a healthy immune system to help it identify and kill cancer cells. Immunotherapy can work in a few different ways:
Immunotherapy works with the body to restore a compromised immune system or to modify and strengthen a healthy immune system to help it identify and kill cancer cells.
Cancer vaccines: Expose the body to antigens associated with certain types of cancers, so that the immune system can easily identify threatening cancer cells and destroy them.
Monoclonal antibodies and tumor-agnostic therapies: Monoclonal antibodies attach to cancer cells to help the immune system identify them. Tumor agnostic therapies help the immune system to identify tumors throughout the body that have the same mutation.
Non-specific immunotherapies: Given at the same time as other cancer treatments. Non-specific immunotherapies stimulate and strengthen the overall immune system, instead of focusing on one specific type of cell.
T-cell therapy: T-cells are special kinds of immune cells. With T-cell therapy, the patient’s T-cells are isolated from a blood sample, altered in a laboratory so that they can identify cancer cells, and are then placed back into the body.
Oncolytic virus therapy: Uses genetically modified viruses that attack cancer cells, but leave the patient’s healthy cells unharmed.
Although there are numerous different types of immunotherapy, the result of each one is the same—a restored or improved immune system that is better equipped to fight cancer cells.
Can Immunotherapy Be Used to Treat All Types of Cancer?
Immunotherapy is currently used to treat many types of cancer, like breast cancer, skin cancer, and colorectal cancer, but it is not yet available to treat all types of cancer. Scientists continue to develop and research immunotherapies to be able to treat as many cancer patients as possible.
The Future of Immunotherapy
Today, immunotherapy is mostly given by intravenous infusion or by injection. Less commonly, an immunotherapy that can be administered as a pill and, in the case of skin cancer, as a cream. However, new advancements in research show that, in the future, all immunotherapies might have the potential to be administered as a pill, significantly simplifying the treatment process and improving the patient experience.
Testosterone is a hormone that is important for the male body. It regulates sex drive, maintains bone mass, and helps facilitate the production of red blood cells. As men age, levels of testosterone decline. Between the ages of 30 and 40, testosterone levels in men can start to decrease by as much as one percent every year. When men reach the age of 50, testosterone levels can get very low (referred to as hypogonadism or low-t), triggering a wide range of symptoms, including erectile dysfunction and fatigue.
Testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) is a type of hormone replacement therapy that aims to increase testosterone levels in the body and treat symptoms of low-t in men. TRT can be administered in many forms, including injections, skin patches, or even as a pill. How can TRT help men who are losing testosterone due to aging?
Treating Mood Disorders
Studies have shown that men with lower levels of testosterone are more likely to develop depression compared to men with higher testosterone levels. An analysis of 27 research studies that, in total, included more than 1,800 men shows that testosterone treatments can help reduce depressive symptoms in men. A separate study discovered that testosterone increases the number of proteins that transport serotonin throughout the brain. Serotonin is an important chemical in the body that helps regulate mood, and low serotonin levels have been linked to depression.
Recovering Bone and Muscle Mass
Men with low-t are more likely to gain weight, which can lead to serious health conditions, like diabetes and heart disease. In addition to weight gain, low-t can also cause men to lose muscle and bone mass, increasing their risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
A recent study shows that testosterone therapy can help men 65 years and older increase bone mass and bone strength after one year of treatment with testosterone gel. The results of this study give researchers hope that testosterone may also be able to reduce the risk of fractures, but long-term studies and more research are needed to determine this.
Improving Memory and Cognitive Function
Low testosterone levels are associated with impaired memory. One study compared the working memory ability of men with normal testosterone levels and men with extremely low testosterone levels (caused by testosterone deprivation therapy (TDT) for the treatment of prostate cancer). Men who had undergone TDT experienced memory loss at a faster rate than men with normal testosterone levels.
Testosterone therapy has been found to help improve spatial memory (orientation) and verbal memory (remembering words and information that are said out loud) in men with low testosterone. The amount of testosterone administered to patients may play a role in testosterone’s ability to improve memory.
Is Testosterone Replacement Therapy Right for You?
Testosterone treatment offers both benefits and risks to men. If you’re interested in learning more about testosterone therapy and whether it is right for you, talk to your doctor. Signs and symptoms of aging may occur for reasons other than low testosterone. Your doctor will test your testosterone levels to determine if you may be a candidate for TRT.
Nutrients are vital substances the body obtains from foods and liquids for growth, development, and sustaining bodily functions. Sometimes, medications can interfere with the body’s nutrient balance and cause levels of certain nutrients to become too low.
Taking medications short-term does not result in nutrient depletion. However, long-term maintenance medication regimens used to treat chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure can, over time, lead to nutrient depletion.
How do Medications Cause Nutrient Depletion?
Medications can deplete nutrients from the body in a few ways:
Excretion: Certain drugs can deplete nutrients by increasing urination and flushing them out of the body.
Decreasing absorption: Certain drugs affect the body’s ability to absorb certain nutrients.
Increasing metabolism: Certain drugs can speed up the body’s metabolism, causing the body to use certain nutrients more quickly.
Why Is it Important to Monitor Nutrient Levels?
The body needs nutrients to execute all of its functions, including growth, development, and reproduction. There are six main groups of nutrients:
Carbohydrates: Provide an important source of energy to the body’s cells as well as fiber.
Minerals: Essential elements needed for nerve function, fluid balance, and bone density.
Lipids: Fats that help the body store energy and form cell membranes for cell protection.
Proteins: Form the basic building blocks of structures throughout the body like bones, muscles, cartilage, and skin and are also used to repair these structures.
Vitamins: Vital compounds that facilitate chemical reactions throughout the body needed for everyday functions.
Water: Substance that helps the body regulate temperature, lubricate the joints and acts as a solvent to dissolve nutrients and make them available to the body.
When the body is low in a certain nutrient, it’s unable to perform all of its functions properly. For example, magnesium (a mineral) plays a role in numerous functions throughout the body, including energy production, muscle and nerve function, and DNA replication (vital to cell division and reproduction). If the body is low in magnesium, this can lead to symptoms such as constipation, fatigue, and abnormal heart rhythm. Long-term magnesium deficiency may even lead to more serious conditions like osteoporosis and heart disease.
Examples of Common Drug-Induced Nutrient Depletions
Antidepressants—can cause folate, calcium, and vitamin D deficiency.
Oral contraceptives (birth control)—can cause vitamin B12, folate, calcium, and magnesium deficiency.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs—can cause iron and vitamin C deficiency.
Is it Possible to Avoid Nutrient Depletion When Taking Medications?
Symptoms of nutrient deficiency may not be obvious. If your doctor has prescribed a long-term maintenance medication regimen, ask him/her about the possibility of nutrient depletion. He/she may recommend periodical blood tests to monitor levels of nutrients and may prescribe supplements to restore healthy levels of nutrients, as needed.
If you’re currently taking a long-term medication and are interested in learning whether it is associated with a known nutrient depletion, or if you notice symptoms of nutrient depletion, talk to your doctor.
The New Year is a time when millions of Americans decide to change unhealthy behaviors and adopt healthy habits, but few people maintain their resolutions. As with any goal, it can be difficult to stay on track and achieve the final results. How can you stay focused and achieve your New Year’s health resolutions?
Bigger goals like, “I want to quit smoking,” can seem overwhelming. Consider breaking up bigger goals into smaller goals that are more easily attainable. For example, “This year, I want to smoke one less cigarette a week,” is a smaller more easily attainable goal that can be adjusted until you reach the bigger goal of quitting smoking.
Other examples of smaller, achievable goals include:
Taking your medication on time
Making an appointment with your general practitioner for a general physical
Walking for 15 minutes a day
Drinking one glass of water in the morning
Define Specific Goals
When defining health goals, it’s helpful to set measurable and achievable goals. For example, “I want to lose weight” is not very specific, and “I want to lose 100 pounds in 2020”, is not very realistic. However, “I want to lose five pounds every two months, in order to lose 30 pounds within a year,” is a specific and realistic goal.
Focus on One Goal at a Time
A long list of goals that incorporates new habits can be daunting. It can lead you to be more stressed, exhausted, and distracted than you were before, and may even lead to feelings of failure and guilt. It’s not necessary, or even possible, to change every bad habit you want to change or start every good habit you want to start, beginning January 1st without slipping. Instead, focus on one goal at a time. Once you’ve achieved the first goal, then move on to the next one.
Making changes requires a lot of attention and energy and does not come without challenges. Having support when things seem difficult can make a big difference between reaching your health goals and not.
Before starting your health journey, reach out to friends and/or family members and ask if they will support you throughout this process. Tell them exactly how they can support you: One day you may need some encouragement, or you may just need someone to help you with accountability (for example, maybe you need someone to send a message to once you’ve completed your goal each day).
Reaching any goal means passing many milestones along the way. It’s important to celebrate these milestones and recognize the hard work that goes into making a daily commitment. You can celebrate milestones by treating yourself to a gift or by sharing your success with a friend over lunch or coffee. Celebrating milestones can help build self-confidence and help motivate you to continue working towards your health goals.
In addition to celebrating milestones, it’s important to remember to be kind to yourself throughout the process. If you miss a day or two, your goal will not be ruined. Remind yourself that no one is perfect and continue working on your New Year’s resolutions the following day.
Mitochondrial disorders are genetic disorders that affect the mitochondria—an important cellular structure. Within each cell are structures called organelles that perform a specific function, like protection or cell division. Mitochondria are responsible for generating more than 90 percent of the cellular energy that sustains organ function, and therefore our lives.
How Do Mitochondrial Disorders Affect Health?
Mitochondria act as a digestive system for cells. They take in nutrients from the food and beverages we consume and turn them into energy-rich molecules that are then used by the cell to perform other functions, like growth and division. Certain cells like muscle and liver cells require thousands of mitochondria, while other cells like red blood cells do not need any.
Mitochondrial disorders occur when the mitochondria cannot produce enough energy for cells to use, and therefore are unable to properly carry out their functions. When this happens, it can lead to serious symptoms.
The symptoms of mitochondrial conditions can vary greatly because they can affect cells in any system of the body, and sometimes in more than one. Mitochondrial disorders affect each person differently, but common symptoms can include:
Muscle weakness and/or intolerance to exercise
Gastrointestinal (GI) disorders
Increased risk of infection
How Common Are Mitochondrial Disorders?
It is estimated that nearly two million people in the United States have a mitochondrial disorder, and that about 1,000 to 4,000 people each year are born with a mitochondrial condition. Mitochondrial disorders can affect people of all ages but are primarily diagnosed in children.
How Do Mitochondria Disorders Occur?
Mitochondrial disorders can be inherited (a gene is passed onto a child from the mother, the father, or both) or the result of a random error. Genetic mutations associated with mitochondrial disorders are caused by defects in either the DNA of the mitochondria or the nucleus.
Mitochondrial disorders can develop in the following ways:
Autosomal recessive: Two copies of a mutated gene are needed in order for the disorder to develop. A genetic mutation is inherited from both the mother and the father.
Autosomal dominant: Only one mutated gene is needed in order for the disorder to develop. The genetic mutation can be inherited from either the mother or the father.
Mitochondrial: The mitochondria have their own DNA, apart from DNA found in the cell’s nucleus. Some mitochondrial disorders occur as the result of a genetic mutation in the mitochondrial DNA—this is referred to as mitochondrial inheritance. Mitochondria are only passed down from the mother. If a male inherits a disorder related to mitochondrial DNA, he cannot pass it onto his children.
Random mutation: Sometimes, a mistake in cell division can result in a random error in DNA. These types of mutations are not inherited by either parent.
Treatment Options for Mitochondrial Disorders
There currently is no cure for mitochondrial disorders. Treatments consist of relieving symptoms and delaying or halting the progression of the disease. Current treatments for mitochondrial disorders include:
Diet therapy as prescribed by a doctor and guided/monitored by a registered dietitian
Vitamins and supplements as prescribed by a doctor
Exercise as indicated by a doctor
Therapies specific to the symptoms of each individual, like speech therapy, respiratory therapy, and physical therapy
The way men approach their overall health may contribute to the fact that certain preventable and treatable health concerns lead to more deaths in men than women. Men are more likely than women to:
Make risky decisions
Make unhealthy choices
Consume alcohol and use tobacco products
Delay or put off getting regular checkups and/or medical care
Below, we discuss some of the most common health concerns among men and how to prevent them or catch them early on to get appropriate treatment.
Cardiovascular disease is the most important health issue affecting men in the US. According to the Centers for Disease Control, cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death among men in the US, and the American Heart Association tells us that more than one in every three men has some form of cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease includes a wide range of complications involving the blood vessels (veins and arteries), like atherosclerosis, which can lead to coronary events like a heart attack or stroke.
Being physically active and eating a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits can help reduce one’s risk of developing heart disease.
Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men and is the second deadliest cancer among men. All men are at risk of developing the disease, as the most important risk factor is age. However, men with a family history of prostate cancer have a higher risk of developing the disease.
All men should be regularly examined for signs of prostate cancer, even if they do not have any symptoms. But the age at which annual screenings should begin depends on each individual’s risk. For example, men with a family history (a brother or father who has been diagnosed with prostate cancer) should begin regular screenings at age 40.
A study published in Diabetologia shows that men are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than women. The study found that men develop type 2 diabetes at a lower body mass index (BMI) compared to women. BMI is a ratio that compares a person’s weight to their height to get an approximation of their total body fat. A higher than average BMI is a risk factor for many conditions, including diabetes.
Eating a well-rounded diet rich in vegetables and fruits, along with having a consistent exercise program can help prevent type 2 diabetes.
Depression and Suicidal Thoughts
Although women are almost twice as likely to develop depression, nearly 3.5 times more men die by suicide. Doctors and researchers think this is because men, in general, are less likely than women to talk about their feelings or seek help for depression. Depressive symptoms can also be different in men—manifesting as anger and irritability instead of feelings of sadness—which can make it more difficult for family and friends to notice signs of depression in men.
Most people respond well to treatments for depression: talk therapy, antidepressant medications, or a combination of the two. People who get treatment for depression early on are more likely to find relief from depressive symptoms and are less likely to relapse.
Two lifestyle behaviors place men at a higher risk of developing liver disease: More men use tobacco products than women, and men are more likely to consume excessive amounts of alcohol compared to women. Drinking alcohol increases the risk of developing certain conditions of the liver, like liver cancer and cirrhosis. Heavy tobacco use (at least two packs a day for 10 years or more) has also been linked to liver damage.
Limiting or quitting tobacco and alcohol use significantly decreases one’s risk of developing liver disease.
Within the gastrointestinal (GI) tract lives a community of microorganisms called the gut microbiome, also called the gut flora and gut microbiota. The gut microbiome not only plays a crucial role in digestion and metabolism, but forms part of an important relationship between the gut and the rest of the body.
The Gut Microbiome Helps Regulate Mood
The gut microbiota interacts with certain cells and neurons (nerve cells) within the gut to produce mood-regulating neurotransmitters (chemicals that relay signals between nerve cells), including serotonin, GABA, and dopamine. Scientists estimate that as much as 90 percent of serotonin is produced in the gut. Serotonin is well-known for its effect on happiness, feelings of well-being, and even regulating anxiety.
The gut microbiota communicates with the gut-brain axis (a communication network between the enteric nervous system found in the GI tract and the central nervous system), forming a relationship between the emotional and cognitive functions of the brain with the intestines. For example, scientists have linked a specific bacteria in the gut, called Campylobacter jejuni, to the onset of symptoms of anxiety.
The Gut Flora Maintains a Healthy Immune System
Researchers have discovered that roughly 70 percent of the body’s immune system and 80 percent of plasma cells (a type of immune cell) lies within the GI tract. The gut microbiota and the gastrointestinal immune system interact and have a beneficial relationship: the gastrointestinal immune system helps promote the growth of beneficial bacteria and maintain a balance among the various microorganisms of the gut flora, while the gut microbiota supports the development of immune cells.
The Gut Microbiota Protects the Brain
A study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology observed the effects of gut microbiota on memory formation in mice. Researchers conducted memory tests, like object recognition and maze completion. Some mice were bred with gut flora and some mice were bred with no gut flora (germ-free). When none of the mice were placed under stress, results showed that germ-free mice had problems with memory, while mice with gut flora did not. This suggests that the gut microbiome may affect memory formation.
How Can You Maintain or Improve Gut Health?
The key to maintaining a healthy gut microbiome is to ensure diversity and balance between beneficial bacteria and potentially harmful bacteria. Some ways in which people can do this include:
Eating foods rich in prebiotics: Prebiotics are plant fibers found in vegetables and whole grains. Beneficial bacteria grow by fermenting prebiotics in the large intestine.
Eating foods rich in probiotics: Probiotics are live beneficial bacteria that are found inside the gut and also in supplements and certain foods, like yogurt, sauerkraut, and miso.
Eliminating processed foods: Processed foods can negatively affect the gut flora, leading to inflammation in the intestines and interrupting the proper interaction between the gut microbiota and the gut-brain axis.
Finding ways to manage and reduce stress: Stress can cause gut flora to become imbalanced and even less diverse.
Loss of bone mass is a common occurrence of aging. Around the age of 40, the body starts to lose bone density and the risk of developing osteoporosis increases. Osteoporosis occurs when enough bone mass has been lost, that the bones become fragile and can be easily fractured from falls or even minor bumps.
Bones are often seen as merely a structural necessity, but they are important for numerous functions in the body, including:
-Protection of vital organs
-Production of blood cells
-Storage of important minerals
-Storage of energy sources
As we age, loss of bone mass not only increases the risk of fractures, it affects the bones’ ability to properly carry out their functions. It is estimated that, worldwide, one in three women and one in five men over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis.
But osteoporosis does not have to be a burden of aging. There are steps people can take to slow the rate of bone loss, maintain healthy bones, and prevent osteoporosis.
Eat a Well-Balanced Diet Rich in Whole Foods
Eating a varied and well-balanced diet is a critical step in the prevention and management of osteoporosis. A diet rich in nutrients, vitamins, and minerals helps the body perform all of its functions properly, including bone formation.
Calcium and vitamin D are two of the most important nutrients in maintaining bone health. Ninety-nine percent of the calcium in the body is found in the bones, while vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium. Calcium is found in dairy products, leafy greens, legumes, and dried fruit while vitamin D can be found in foods like mushrooms and fish. However, many people choose to get their daily intake of calcium and vitamin D from supplements.
Protein is a nutrient that preserves bone mass. It is found in animal sources like fish and dairy products. Protein can also be consumed from plant sources like lentils, grains, and nuts.
Nutrients found in plants have been shown to support bone density in both men and women. Fruits, vegetables, and grains provide the body with a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and
micronutrients that are necessary for bone tissue renewal, including vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin K, magnesium, and zinc.
Do Daily Weight-bearing Exercises
Like muscles, bones also become stronger when exercised correctly. Weight-bearing and resistance exercises are the best types of activities for strengthening the bones. Exercise also helps to strengthen the muscles and maintain or improve coordination and balance, which can help prevent falls and broken bones.
Examples of weight-bearing exercises include walking, climbing stairs, and dancing. Examples of resistance exercises include push-ups, squats, and lifting weights. Exercises like running and jumping are not necessary and may put added stress on already fragile bones.
Quit Smoking and Limit Alcohol Consumption
Researchers have found that drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, and taking certain medications could increase the risk of developing osteoporosis. These lifestyle factors or modifiable factors can interfere with the normal function of mitochondria (a cellular structure that produces energy for the body). When mitochondrial function is compromised, it sends out a stress signal.
When this occurs in cells called macrophages (a type of immune cell that detect, consume, and digest foreign substances in the body, like pathogens), they turn into osteoclasts (a type of cell that absorbs bone tissue). This stress response can lead to an overproduction of osteoclasts and therefore an acceleration of bone loss.
Consider Bone-Forming Medications
In some cases, metabolic conditions can affect the rate at which a person’s body loses bone density. For these individuals, or for people who have advanced bone density loss, doctors may recommend bone-forming medications.
Hormone therapy may also be a viable treatment option for both men and women. As men age, testosterone levels drop and may contribute to osteoporosis. Women are more susceptible to bone loss after menopause due to a sudden drop in estrogen.
Allergy immunotherapy is a relatively new treatment that can provide long-term relief from allergies for both children and adults. Although immunotherapy was first used to treat a pollen allergy in 1911, it is now widely used to treat a variety of allergic complications, such as asthma.
An allergic reaction occurs when the body identifies a substance as harmful and causes an immune response. People can have an allergic reaction to all kinds of things, including food, insect stings, pollen, and certain medications. The substance that causes an allergic reaction is called an allergen. Allergens can cause uncomfortable symptoms such as sneezing or itchy and watery eyes. In some cases, allergens can cause life-threatening symptoms such as asthma or swelling of the throat, threatening the patient’s ability to breathe.
Who Might Consider Getting Allergy Immunotherapy Treatment?
Traditionally, allergy medications are used to treat symptoms of allergies. But these medications stop working once the individual stops taking them. Allergy immunotherapy can offer long-lasting results, even after the last dose.
Allergy immunotherapy may be a good treatment option for patients who:
-Do not find relief from allergy medications
-Have adverse reactions from taking allergy medications with other necessary medications
-Have a life-threatening allergy such as insect stings
-Wish to stop taking long-term allergy medications
How Does Allergy Immunotherapy Treatment Work?
Allergy immunotherapy works by introducing a small amount of the allergen (the substance that causes an allergic reaction) into the body over a few years to build up a resistance and eliminate symptoms.
How Is Allergy Immunotherapy Administered?
Subcutaneous immunotherapy (SCIT)
Subcutaneous immunotherapy (SCIT), also called injections or shots, are the most common method of administering allergy immunotherapy. Subcutaneous means “under the skin.”
SCIT works by injecting a small amount of the allergen under the patient’s skin. This is done initially once a week for a few months, then once every two weeks, and eventually once every four weeks until the end of treatment. Treatment may last three to five years for the patient to develop long-term immunity to the allergen. An added benefit of SCIT is that it may help prevent the development of new allergies in patients.
Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT)
For individuals who prefer to receive treatment without injections, there is an oral treatment option called sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT). Sublingual means “under the tongue.” SLIT is administered using tablets. The patient places a tablet containing a small amount of the allergen under the tongue and keeps it there for a few minutes before swallowing it. Tablets help patients build resistance to the effects of the allergen, therefore reducing and hopefully eliminating symptoms. SLIT is repeated at least three days a week for three to five years for the patient to develop long-term immunity to the allergen.
Drops can also be used for SLIT. However, in the US, this method is currently considered an off-label treatment, meaning that it is not yet approved by the US Food and Drug Administration as an effective treatment for allergies.
Sublingual immunotherapy only helps patients achieve symptom relief from one type of allergen and, unlike injections, does not prevent the development of new allergies.
The Future of Allergy Immunotherapy
Allergy immunotherapy is currently not indicated for use in children with life-threatening food allergies, although researchers are working on developing a safe and effective treatment method. Today, allergy immunotherapy for food-allergies is administered in a research setting, where children are under constant supervision.
A study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice assessed the safety of oral immunotherapy administered in a hospital or clinical setting in 270 children aged 9 months to five years old with a peanut allergy. During the study, 68 percent of children experienced an allergic reaction that was mild or moderate. Less than half of a percent of children in the study experienced a severe allergic reaction. Although severe reactions can occur in a small portion of patients, 90 percent of children reached the maintenance stage of treatment, demonstrating that immunotherapy may be a safe treatment option for young children with peanut allergies.