What We Treat

Immunotherapy – hope for UAE allergy sufferers

With heat, dust and ants, residents face significant challenges, but a series of injections could solve the problem

By Dr Ahmed El-Rafei

Allergies are very common in the UAE, in fact, one in five residents suffers from them. They can affect the lungs, nose, sinuses, eyes, skin or digestive system, or lead to asthma. In addition to the allergens – that is, allergy-causing substances – found across the world, such as pet hair and food allergies, there are some that are particularly prevalent in our region.

Airborne particles

The main airborne allergens here are pollen and dust – depending on the season – and indoor substances like house dust mites and mold spores, which are behind allergy attacks all year round. Studies have shown that in UAE, grass/pollen allergies are clustered in the winter, spring and summer. Dust is non-seasonal and animal allergy are worse in the winter and spring.

These allergens cause symptoms such as coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath; a stuffy or runny nose; sneezing; tearing eyes or dark under-eye circles, or itchiness in the nose, eyes, throat or roof of the mouth.

Black ants

In the UAE, the black (samsum) ant sting is considered a health hazard. Ant-allergy reactions can range from mild to severe, and include respiratory symptoms such as hoarseness, wheezing, and a spasmodic cough, skin symptoms such as urticaria (hives) and angioedema (painful or itchy swelling), as well as gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms, to the most severe of all: life-threatening anaphylaxis, with swelling of the airways, low blood pressure (hypotension), bronchospasm and shock. Treatments include antihistamine and steroid injections, and patients with an allergy to black ants should carry an Epipen with them at all times. But, most importantly, we recommend being desensitized, which is where allergy shots (immunotherapy) come in.

Immunotherapy as a solution

Finding out what you are allergic to is an important first step to effectively manage your allergic condition. Allergy tests are convenient and accurate but should be performed by allergists, who are specialists trained in the best methods for testing and treating allergies. With skin testing, suitable for adults and children, we can identify the culprit allergen. Drops of suspected allergens are pricked onto the surface of the skin on the back or forearm. If you have redness and swelling at the test spot, then you might be allergic to that allergen. Skin tests are not only more accurate than blood tests, but they also give faster results because with blood tests, the sample must be sent to a lab.

Once we know the cause of your allergies, we can treat your allergic disease with immunotherapy (allergy shots). These stimulate the immune system to fight allergies effectively and, most importantly, naturally. Most children and adults, including pregnant women, can be candidates for allergy shots.

Treatment involves injections of a small amount of allergy extracts into the skin using a tiny needle, which means very little pain perception, especially by children. The extracts are made from the substances causing the reactions, such as pollen, mold, cat or dog dander or dust mites.

Allergy shots begin with small doses and increase gradually. Therapy continues until a maintenance level is achieved. With allergy shots, fewer medicines may be needed over time. Work or school days are no longer missed. And allergies will become something the patient doesn’t think about any more.