Many allergy sufferers take pills or use nose sprays to help ease their symptoms. There is no true “cure” for allergies, but many people have found allergen immunotherapy, or allergy shots to be the next best thing.
When something that you are allergic to comes in contact with your body, your immune system sends out the signal for your body to defend itself by producing a specific antibody to get rid of the allergen in your system. These antibodies create the symptoms we associate with an allergic reaction. Common allergens that may trigger nasal allergies include pollen from plants, dust, pet dander, and smoke. Other allergens include poison ivy, insect stings, antibiotics, and certain foods such as peanuts.
Allergy shots are designed to increase your tolerance of the things you are allergic to. They have been shown to be safe and effective in reducing allergic reactions to nasal allergies and insect stings. Allergy shots are not effective as treatment for dermatitis or headaches. Allergy shots are not an appropriate treatment for food or antibiotic allergies, and may actually be dangerous if used for these kinds of allergic reactions.
How Allergy Shots Work
If you are considering getting allergy shots to reduce your allergy symptoms, you will first be evaluated by an allergy specialist. This evaluation may include a skin test to find out exactly what allergens you react to. During the skin test, drops of various allergens are placed on the skin and observed to see which allergens cause a reaction. Using this information, your allergist will create an allergy shot specifically designed to help you build immunity to your specific allergens.
Allergy shots work in a way similar to a vaccine. When you get a shot you are injected with a tiny amount of the allergen you are allergic to. Over time, the amount of allergen in each shot is increased and your body builds up a tolerance to it so that when you encounter more of the allergen as you go about your daily activities, your body will not react as severely and your allergy symptoms will be reduced.
In the beginning, you will need to get an allergy shot once or twice each week. This helps build up the immunity in your body, and allows your allergy doctor to gradually increase the amount of allergen in each shot. This build-up phase usually lasts three to six months. When your doctor determines that you are at a high enough dose, you will begin the maintenance phase, which typically lasts several years. During this time, you may also be able to reduce the number of shots to one every two to four weeks.
Who can be treated with allergy shots?
Allergy shots can be effective for patients with allergic asthma, nasal allergies, and allergies to stinging insects. Your doctor will consider a number of factors in deciding whether shots are the best choice for you:
• How severe are your symptoms and how much of the year are you affected by allergies?
• Will other medications or changes to your environment control your symptoms?
• Do you want to avoid long-term use of pills or other medications?
• Are you willing to commit to getting shots on a regular schedule?
• Are you willing and able to accept the cost, depending on insurance coverage and other factors?
Allergy shots are safe and effective when given correctly. But there are some potential side effects that range from mild to serious, including itching and soreness at the injection site, and rarely, anaphylaxis which can be life threatening. Only trained medical personnel who are appropriately equipped to take care of these side effects should give allergy shots.