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Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2000;(2):CD001186.

Allergen immunotherapy for asthma.

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  • 1Epidemiology & Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Monash Medical School, The Alfred Hospital, Prahran, Vic, Australia, 3181.

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Allergen specific immunotherapy has long been a controversial treatment for asthma. Although beneficial effects upon clinically relevant outcomes have been demonstrated in randomised controlled trials, there remains a risk of severe and sometimes fatal anaphylaxis. The recommendations of professional bodies have ranged from cautious acceptance to outright dismissal. With increasing interest in new allergen preparations and new methods of delivery, it was time to conduct a systematic review of allergen specific immunotherapy for asthma.


Allergen specific immunotherapy involves injecting an extract of the allergen under the skin. It is also known as hyposensitisation or desensitisation, and carries a risk of potentially fatal anaphylaxis. The objective of this review was to assess the effects of allergen specific immunotherapy for asthma.


We searched the Cochrane Airways Group trials register up to 1997, Dissertation Abstracts, WorldCat and ArticleFirst.


Randomised trials using various forms of allergen specific immunotherapy to treat asthma.


Eligibility of studies for inclusion was decided by three reviewers independently. Quality assessment of studies was performed by two reviewers independently.


Fifty-four trials were included. There were 25 trials of immunotherapy for house mite allergy; 13 pollen allergy trials; eight animal dander allergy trials; two Cladosporium mould allergy and six trials looking at multiple allergens. Concealment of allocation was assessed as clearly adequate in only 11 of these trials. Significant heterogeneity was present in a number of comparisons. Overall, there was a significant reduction in asthma symptoms and medication following immunotherapy. There was also a significant improvement in asthma symptom scores (standardised mean difference -0.52, 95% confidence interval -0.70 to -0.35). People receiving immunotherapy were less likely to report a worsening of asthma symptoms than those randomised to placebo (odds ratio 0.27, 95% confidence interval 0.21 to 0.35). People randomised to immunotherapy were less likely to require medication than those randomised to placebo (odds ratio 0.28, 95% confidence interval 0.19 to 0.42). Allergen immunotherapy reduced allergen specific bronchial hyper-reactivity, with some reduction in non-specific bronchial hyper-reactivity as well. There was no consistent effect on lung function.


Immunotherapy may reduce asthma symptoms and use of asthma medications, but the size of the benefit compared to other therapies is not known. The possibility of adverse effects (such as anaphylaxis) must be considered.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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