What are Allergy shots?
Allergy shots or Allergen Immunotherapy is a safe and effective treatment program designed to reduce allergic sensitivity to environmental substances (allergens like dust mites, mold, animal dander, and pollens). It involves giving injections of a small amount of the allergen, at regular intervals for a period of around 3 to 5 years to reduce or stop the allergy reactions.
How do allergy shots work?
Each allergy shot carries a tiny amount of the specific substance or substances (allergen) that you are allergic to. Allergy shots stimulate your immune system but do not cause a full-blown allergic reaction. Over time, the dose of allergen is increased so that your body slowly gets used to it (desensitization).
Gradually, your immune system becomes tolerant towards the allergen, and allergy symptoms diminish over time as the doses increase.
What symptoms can be relieved by allergy shots?
Allergy shots help in reducing symptoms of many allergies. They can also help to prevent the development of new allergies and the progression of allergic rhinitis to asthma. The effectiveness of allergy shots depends on the length of the treatment program and the dose of the allergen. Some people may get lasting relief from allergy symptoms, while some may have a relapse after stopping allergy shots.
How often do you have to get allergy shots and for how long do you need to get allergy shots to experience the benefits?
To be effective, allergy shots are given according to a program that includes 2 phases:
The Buildup Phase
This phase usually takes 3 to 6 months and shots can be given 1-2 times per week. The dose of allergen is gradually increased with each shot in this phase. The dose of allergen is gradually increased with each shot in this phase.
The Maintenance Phase
This phase starts once the effective dose is achieved. This phase continues for 3 to 5 years or even longer and allergy shots are usually given once or twice a month.
You are required to stay in your doctor’s office for at least 30 minutes after each shot. Any decision to stop the treatment should be discussed with your allergist.
Who can benefit?
Allergy shots can be given to both children and adults; however, usually, they are not recommended for children under the age of 5. Young children may have trouble cooperating with the program and communicating about the adverse symptoms during the treatment. When considering allergy shots for older adults, medical conditions such as heart disease should be discussed with your allergist first.
What are the complications of allergy shots?
Sometimes allergy shots can cause redness and swelling at the injection site. This can happen immediately or after a few hours of the injection. In some cases, symptoms may include sneezing, hives, or nasal congestion. Serious allergic reaction to allergy shots is very rare. If they do occur, they require prompt medical attention.
What is the expected outcome?
Allergic symptoms usually improve during the first year of treatment; however, the most noticeable improvement usually happens in the second year. By the third year, most people do not have significant allergic symptoms to those allergens. Many people may not require medications for managing their allergy after they have received allergy shots. This helps in improving the quality of life.
Should I get allergy shots?
Allergy shots are a good treatment option for you if:
- Allergy medications are not giving you relief from symptoms
- Medications are interacting with other drugs that you are taking or causing side-effects
- You want to avoid long-term use of medications