Treatments of Hypersensitivities


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OpenStax Microbiology

Allergic reactions can be treated in various ways. Prevention of allergic reactions can be achieved by desensitization (hyposensitization) therapy, which can be used to reduce the hypersensitivity reaction through repeated injections of allergens. Extremely dilute concentrations of known allergens (determined from the allergen tests) are injected into the patient at prescribed intervals (e.g., weekly). The quantity of allergen delivered by the shots is slowly increased over a buildup period until an effective dose is determined and that dose is maintained for the duration of treatment, which can last years. Patients are usually encouraged to remain in the doctor’s office for 30 minutes after receiving the injection in case the allergens administered cause a severe systemic reaction. Doctors’ offices that administer desensitization therapy must be prepared to provide resuscitation and drug treatment in the case of such an event.

Desensitization therapy is used for insect sting allergies and environmental allergies. The allergy shots elicit the production of different interleukins and IgG antibody responses instead of IgE. When excess allergen-specific IgG antibodies are produced and bind to the allergen, they can act as blocking antibodies to neutralize the allergen before it can bind IgE on mast cells. There are early studies using oral therapy for desensitization of food allergies that are promising. These studies involve feeding children who have allergies tiny amounts of the allergen (e.g., peanut flour) or related proteins over time. Many of the subjects show reduced severity of reaction to the food allergen after the therapy.

There are also therapies designed to treat severe allergic reactions. Emergency systemic anaphylaxis is treated initially with an epinephrine injection, which can counteract the drop in blood pressure. Individuals with known severe allergies often carry a self-administering auto-injector that can be used in case of exposure to the allergen (e.g., an insect sting or accidental ingestion of a food that causes a severe reaction). By self-administering an epinephrine shot (or sometimes two), the patient can stem the reaction long enough to seek medical attention. Follow-up treatment generally involves giving the patient antihistamines and slow-acting corticosteroids for several days after the reaction to prevent potential late-phase reactions. However, the effects of antihistamine and corticosteroid treatment are not well studied and are used based on theoretical considerations.

Treatment of milder allergic reactions typically involves antihistamines and other anti-inflammatory drugs. A variety of antihistamine drugs are available, in both prescription and over-the-counter strengths. There are also antileukotriene and antiprostaglandin drugs that can be used in tandem with antihistamine drugs in a combined (and more effective) therapy regime.

Treatments of type III hypersensitivities include preventing further exposure to the antigen and the use of anti-inflammatory drugs. Some conditions can be resolved when exposure to the antigen is prevented. Anti-inflammatory corticosteroid inhalers can also be used to diminish inflammation to allow lung lesions to heal. Systemic corticosteroid treatment, oral or intravenous, is also common for type III hypersensitivities affecting body systems. Treatment of hypersensitivity pneumonitis includes avoiding the allergen, along with the possible addition of prescription steroids such as prednisone to reduce inflammation.

Treatment of type IV hypersensitivities includes antihistamines, anti-inflammatory drugs, analgesics, and, if possible, eliminating further exposure to the antigen.


Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: