The first published study showing that allergies could be cured through an innovative procedure known today as immunotherapy was published in 1911 by Leonard Noon. Today, 111 years later, we continue to investigate and advance along the path of immunotherapy to be able to cure all allergies . However, we still have a long way to go.
A long but successful journey
In this first study, Leonard Noon recruited patients suffering from grass pollen allergy and whose symptoms were rhinitis and/or conjunctivitis. At that time, many aspects of allergies were unknown, and it was even believed that the cause of the symptoms was a toxin that was present in the pollen. Some time later it was shown that allergies were not caused by toxins, but by allergens, that is, harmless components that were only a threat to certain people who were sensitive to their exposure.
The immunotherapy designed by Leonard Noon consisted of subcutaneous injections at different intervals of grass pollen preparations in water. He first tested four types of grass to ensure that his preparations still retained the compound responsible for causing the symptoms, and ultimately settled on Timothy grass or Phelum pratense . Before and after these injections, Leonard Noon evaluated the response by placing a drop of these preparations in the eyes of the patients. If redness appeared in the eye, it was the indicator that an allergic reaction was taking place. The results of this first successful immunotherapy showed that he had found a way to re-educate the immune system and achieve some tolerance to pollen.
Are we able to cure allergies?
Most allergies are not life-threatening to sufferers, but are a constant source of impairment and have a major effect on quality of life. Seasonal allergies, such as rhinitis or asthma to pollen, are responsible for sick leave and a large number of impediments to carrying out activities abroad. Taking into account that this type are also the most common allergies in the population, it can be a problem for society. On the other hand, permanent allergies can lead to another series of associated symptoms such as anxiety or depression, especially if the standard treatment is not effective. In this situation, immunotherapy could be the solution.
Although Noon’s study has many limitations and raised more questions than answers, it was a major advance in the field of immunology. Nowadays, this technique has been perfected and optimized to adjust to the different types of allergies that exist. However, the essence of the process has remained: administer allergen preparations at specific time intervals to elicit a change in the immune response that culminates in tolerance to that allergen.
Immunotherapy has fairly high effectiveness rates, but there are some factors that are essential to take into account. First of all, immunotherapy is not equally successful for all types of allergens or types of allergies. Dust mite allergy usually has localized symptoms in the eyes and respiratory tract, and sometimes it is the only type of allergy that patients present. These patients are the ideal candidates to receive an immunotherapy specifically designed to re-educate the immune system so that dust mites do not pose a threat to the body.
On the contrary, a person who suffers from atopic dermatitis and is sensitized to numerous allergens from pollen, mites to animals; will be a patient with less probability of success after treatment. One of the reasons is because it has antibodies against so many different allergens, that such a specific immunotherapy cannot be designed for all of them, and the most relevant for the appearance of symptoms would have to be selected. This selection carries the risk that after completion of therapy the patient will still suffer from allergy when exposed to allergens that were not included in the preparations. The procedure would not be dangerous for the patient, but a negative result can result in frustration and waste of resources for doctors and patients.
In addition to these factors, it is also necessary to take into account whether the patient has a genetic predisposition or has an imbalance in the immune system that prevents the therapy from working fully. For all these reasons, it is necessary to carry out several tests before determining if an allergic patient is a good candidate to receive immunotherapy and thus cure their allergy.
The best thing, if you suffer from any type of allergy, is to ask the specialists if they can offer you any immunotherapy treatment and carry out the appropriate tests before starting. If all the results are adequate, you may be able to cure your allergy or at least reduce the symptoms quite a bit.
Noon. 1911. Prophylactic inoculation against hay fever. The Lancet . doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(00)78276-6