Desensitization (medicine)

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Desensitization (medicine)
ICD-9-CM 99.12
MeSH D003888
OPS-301 code 8-030

In medicine, desensitization is a method to reduce or eliminate an organism's negative reaction to a substance or stimulus.

In pharmacology, drug desensitization is equivalent to drug tolerance, whereas drug sensitization is equivalent to reverse tolerance.

Application to allergies[edit]

For example, if a person with diabetes mellitus has a bad allergic reaction to taking a full dose of beef insulin, the person is given a very small amount of the insulin at first, so small that the person has no adverse reaction or very limited symptoms as a result. Over a period of time, larger doses are given until the person is taking the full dose. This is one way to help the body get used to the full dose, and to avoid having the allergic reaction to beef-origin insulin.

At the cellular level, administration of small doses of toxin produces an IgG response which eventually overrides the hypersensitive IgE response. A different mechanism is responsible for desensitization to antibiotics, which is performed over a shorter time course than desensitization to other allergies. In this form of desensitization, the patient is slowly exposed to a level of antibiotic that produces low-grade anaphylaxis. At the end of the procedure, the patient's mast cells have depleted their granular contents, and the patient cannot undergo any allergic response until these cells restore these contents.

Desensitization approaches for food allergy are generally at the research stage. They include:[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nowak-Węgrzyn A, Sampson HA (March 2011). "Future therapies for food allergies". J. Allergy Clin. Immunol. 127 (3): 558–73; quiz 574–5. doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2010.12.1098. PMC 3066474. PMID 21277625.