The term "immunotherapy" refers to treating diseases by inducing, enhancing or suppressing immune responses. As allergy is an excessive, detrimental immune reaction to otherwise harmless environmental substances, immunotherapy of allergic disease is aimed at the induction of tolerance toward sensitizing antigens. This article focuses on the historical developments, present state and future outlook for immunotherapy with haptens as a therapeutic modality for allergic contact dermatitis. Inspired by the effectiveness of immunotherapy in respiratory allergies, attempts were undertaken at curing allergic contact dermatitis by means of controlled administration of the sensitizing haptens. Animal and human experiments confirmed that tolerance to haptens can be induced most effectively when the induction of tolerance precedes attempted sensitization. In real life, however, therapy is sought by people who are already sensitized and an effective reversal of hypersensitivity seems more difficult to achieve. Decades of research on Rhus hypersensitivity led to a conclusion that immunotherapy can suppress Rhus dermatitis, however, only to a limited degree, for a short period of time, and at a high risk of side effects, which makes this method therapeutically unprofitable. Methodological problems with most available studies of immunotherapy of contact allergy to nickel make any definite conclusions impossible at this stage.
Key words: allergic contact dermatitis allergy vaccination; contact allergy; contact eczema; contact hypersensitivity; hapten; hyposensitization; immunotherapy; nickel; Rhus; tolerance induction.
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Document created: 3 June 2011, last updated: 1 September 2011.