Is Dust Mite Immunotherapy Right for You?

Dust mites are one of the most common causes of allergy in the United States. These creepy critters are so tiny you could fit thousands on the head of the pin. Every home has them. They live in mattresses, pillows and upholstered furniture — anywhere they find moisture along with their favorite food, which is human skin dander (shed skin flakes).

Allergen proteins from their droppings and carcasses can trigger nasal and skin allergy symptoms — and may also worsen asthma.

Steps you can take to reduce exposure to the allergens include:

— Use dust mite-proof mattress and pillow encasings to prevent mites and their allergens from escaping into your airways and settling into house dust.

— Vacuum carpets and dust surfaces regularly.

— Keep dust mite levels down in bedrooms by removing carpets, stuffed animals, dust-catching furnishings and stacks of books and papers.

— Keep indoor humidity levels below 50 percent, as dust mites require moisture to live.

— Wash bedding regularly in hot water to kill off dust mites.

All these measures will help reduce levels of dust mite allergens, but it’s impossible to eliminate them entirely. For those who don’t want to rely on allergy medication — or those with difficult-to-control symptoms — the answer may be immunotherapy.

[See: 8 Surprising Facts About Asthma and Seasonal Allergies.]

Immunotherapy trains your immune system to build up tolerance to the allergen, organically decreasing or sometimes eliminating your allergy.

There are two types of immunotherapy, each with its own benefits and drawbacks:

Allergy Shots: Subcutaneous Immunotherapy

A series of injections at an allergist’s office that gradually build tolerance.

Pros of Allergy Shots:

Allergy shots have a long history of safety and success.

— Injection solutions can be mixed to treat multiple allergies at once, for patients allergic to more than one substance.

— Therapy is usually well covered by health insurance.

— Tolerance lasts years after full therapy is completed.

— Therapy is approved for patients ages 5 and up.

Cons of Allergy Shots:

— Patients may fear or dislike shots.

— Weekly doctor’s appointments are required during the build-up period, followed by monthly visits for 3-5 years.

— Though dangerous allergic reactions are rare, injections should be given at doctor’s office where emergency treatment is available, and patients must be monitored for adverse effects 30 minutes after treatment.

[See: Is it Healthy to Sleep With Your Pets?]

Allergy Tablets: Sublingual Immunotherapy

Daily pills that dissolve under the tongue and gradually build tolerance.

Pros of Allergy Tablets:

— No shots are required.

— After the first tablet is administered at the doctor’s office, future tablets can be taken at home.

— Symptom relief may begin within 2-3 months.

— The first FDA-approved tablets for dust mite immunotherapy — Odactra — are proven safe and effective.

— Tolerance to allergens may last for a year or so after 6-12 month therapy.

Cons of Allergy Tablets:

— Tablets must be held under the tongue for 10 seconds; patient must not swallow for 1 minute, with no eating or drinking for 5 minutes.

— Tablets need to be taken daily, year-round; missed doses will interfere with effectiveness of treatment and can result in dangerous allergic reactions.

— Long-term benefits of treatment are not yet proven.

— Dust mite immunotherapy tablets only treat one allergy, so some patients allergic to multiple environmental allergens may not see a reduction in symptoms.

— Though rare, dangerous allergic reactions such as anaphylaxis are possible, so patients must be prescribed and be ready to use epinephrine auto-injectors.

— Insurance coverage will vary and each patient should determine their out-of-pocket costs.

— Odactra is only approved for patients age 18 to 65. It is not for patients with severe, unstable or uncontrolled asthma.

— Patients who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or those with COPD, heart conditions or some other chronic health conditions may not be advised to use Odactra.

[See: 7 Lifestyle Tips to Manage Your Asthma.]

If you’re interested in immunotherapy, talk with a board-certified allergist, who will first perform allergy tests and review your medical history to confirm your allergy diagnosis. Then discuss what is involved in the therapy and how it is expected to help you.

Ask questions. Voice any concerns. Shared decision making is important, as immunotherapy requires a long-term commitment in order to be effective.

More from U.S. News

How to Survive Ragweed Allergy Season

8 Surprising Facts About Asthma and Seasonal Allergies

Is Your Pet Imperiling Your Health?

Is Dust Mite Immunotherapy Right for You? originally appeared on usnews.com