Allergy immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots, is a treatment that decreases symptoms for many people with allergic rhinitis, allergic asthma, conjunctivitis (eye allergy) or stinging insect allergy. Allergy shots decrease sensitivity to allergens and often lead to long lasting relief of allergy symptoms, even after treatment is stopped. This makes it a cost-effective, beneficial treatment approach for many people.
Who Can Benefit From Allergy Shots?
Both children and adults can receive allergy shots.
Allergy shots are not used to treat food allergies. The best option for people with food allergies is to strictly avoid the offending food.
How Do Allergy Shots Work?
Allergy shots work like a vaccine. Your body responds to injected amounts of a particular allergen, given in gradually increasing doses, by developing immunity or tolerance to the allergen.
There are two phases:
• Build-up phase. This involves receiving injections with increasing amounts of the allergens about one to two times per week. A noticeable improvement of symptoms is usually reported during this phase. The length of this phase depends upon how often the injections are received, but generally ranges from three to six months.
• Maintenance phase. This begins once the effective dose is reached. The effective maintenance dose depends on your level of allergen sensitivity and your response to the build-up phase. During the maintenance phase, there will be longer periods of time between treatments, ranging from two to four weeks. Maintenance treatment is generally continued for an extended period of time.
How Effective Are Allergy Shots?
Allergy shots have shown to decrease symptoms of many allergies and can prevent the development of new ones. Studies show that in children, it can also prevent the progression of allergic disease from allergic rhinitis to asthma. As the allergy symptoms begin to improve, the use of allergy medications may decrease or even disappear. The effectiveness of allergy shots appears to be related to the length of the treatment program as well as the dose of the allergen received over time. Some people experience long lasting relief from allergy symptoms, while others may relapse after discontinuing their allergy shots.
Are There Risks?
A typical reaction is redness and swelling at the injection site. This can happen immediately or several hours after the treatment. In some instances, a reaction may include increased allergy symptoms such as sneezing, nasal congestion or hives.
Serious reactions to allergy shots are rare. When they do occur, they require immediate medical attention. Symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction can include swelling in the throat, wheezing or tightness in the chest, nausea and dizziness. Most serious reactions develop within 30 minutes of receiving the allergy injections. This is why it is recommended that patients wait in the doctor’s office for at least 30 minutes after receiving their allergy shots.