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Allergen-specific immunotherapy in birch- and grass-pollen-allergic rhinitis. II. Side-effects


Lone Winther, MD
Allergy Unit 7551
National University Hospital
20, Tagensvej
DK-2200 Copenhagen N


Background: Allergen-specific immunotherapy (IT) involves the risk of side-effects. Different side-effect profiles have been reported for different allergens, and it would be of great benefit to be able more precisely to predict patient- and allergen-related risk factors.

Methods: Fifty-two patients with rhinoconjunctivitis and allergy to birch as well as grass pollen participated in a 3-year IT study, with a baseline year followed by 2 years of treatment. During the first treatment year, the patients received double-blinded IT with either birch (Betula verrucosa) or grass (Phleum pratense) pollen extracts adsorbed to aluminum hydroxide. The following year, the other allergen extract was added. Assessment of systemic reactions (SRs) was performed, and related to patient pretreatment parameters such as seasonal symptoms and medication requirement, skin prick test (SPT), conjunctival provocation test (CPT), nasal provocation test (NPT), total and specific IgE, basophil histamine release (HR), eosinophil count (EOS), eosinophil cationic protein (ECP), and eosinophil protein X (EPX).

Results: In total, 44 and 47 patients started IT with birch- and grass-pollen extracts, respectively. All SRs occurred during the dose-increase phase. No life-threatening SRs were observed. There were a higher number of patients with SRs during IT with grass pollen than IT with birch pollen, 21 vs five patients (P<0.001), with SRs to 3.3% of grass-pollen injections compared to 0.7% of birch-pollen injections (P<0.0001). The SRs of birch-pollen IT were mild, consisting of rhinoconjunctivitis and oral-pharyngeal itching, whereas asthma and urticaria episodes were observed in the grass-pollen IT. No difference was found in sensitivity to birch and grass, when measured by SPT, CPT, NPT, specific IgE, or HR, and no difference was found in age, duration of allergic symptoms, prevalence of asthma, mean seasonal birch/grass symptom score, eye-drop use, or antihistamine or prednisolone intake between the group with and without subsequent SRs to IT. No difference was found in EOS, serum ECP, or EPX, between the group with and without subsequent SRs to IT.

Conclusions: IT with grass-pollen extract seems to be associated with a higher number and more severe SRs than birch-pollen IT. Neither demographic data nor diagnostic tests of allergy such as specific IgE, HR, SPT, CPT, and NPT could identify the patients with subsequent SRs.