While avoidance is the best defense, it is often impossible to avoid allergens that can trigger your allergies. To relieve the suffering of allergy symptoms, for most inhalant allergies (dust mites, cockroaches, cats, pollen, mold) and stinging insect (bees, wasps) allergies, you can get allergy shots.
Allergy shots are also known as “immunotherapy.” Recent research has clearly shown the effectiveness of allergen vaccine immunotherapy for both allergic rhinitis and asthma. It is also highly effective for stinging insect allergies. These new studies have confirmed what allergy specialists have observed for years in their patients: Allergy shots work in relieving allergy symptoms! In fact allergy shots are the ONLY way to suppress the underlying allergy response for long-term relief.
How Do Allergy Shots Work?
Allergy is when your immune system mistakes a harmless substance for a dangerous one and triggers the release of chemicals into your body, thus creating symptoms like runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, itching and in some cases, more serious symptoms like coughing or wheezing, swelling of the throat and tongue, and in the worst case anaphylaxis.
Allergy shots increase your tolerance to the harmful allergen. By injecting gradually increasing doses of the offending allergen extract, the immune system builds up a tolerance to that allergen. Allergy shots slow down and reduce the production of the IgE antibody. You can think of each shot as adding a brick to the “wall of protection” against things that trigger your allergies.
Who are the Best Candidates for Allergy Shots?
If you are able to avoid the trigger of your allergies or if usual doses of medications control your symptoms, then immunotherapy might not be needed. While allergy shots have been proven effective against inhalant allergies and stinging insect allergies, they are not used for food allergies. If any of the following applies to you, then you may be a candidate for allergy shots:
- If the medications to control your symptoms (i.e., antihistamines, decongestants) do not work.
- If the medication used to control your symptoms produces too many side effects.
- If complications (i.e., sinus infections, ear infections) develop.
- If you have asthma triggered by allergies.
- If you are at risk of developing anaphylaxis (a severe reaction that, in some cases, may be fatal) when exposed to an allergen. (As noted above – allergy shots are not used for food allergy.)
- If medications control your symptoms, but your symptoms flare back up every time you try to reduce your medications.
- If you can’t effectively avoid things that trigger your allergies.
- If you would rather take a series of allergy shots than daily medications.
- If you would rather treat the actual problem rather than just use medications to control symptoms.
- If cost of the medications is a burden, allergy shots are very cost effective compared to the use of daily prescription medications over several years.
How Often Do I Need Allergy Shots?
At the beginning, allergy shots are usually administered two to three times per week. With this rapid build-up, improvement can occur within three to four months and will usually be at its full benefit within the first year to 18 months. In a typical treatment schedule, shots are tapered to weekly intervals once maintenance is reached (usually at three to six months) then to every two weeks at 12 months, then every three to four weeks after 18 to 24 months. Most people can come off their shots after about five years. Your shot schedule is individualized by the board-certified allergy and asthma specialist – these specialists are the only ones who receive extensive training in this procedure. You should always consult with an allergy and asthma specialist before beginning a series of allergy shots.
Are Allergy Shots Expensive?
Studies have shown that allergy shots are a very cost-effective way to treat allergies. They have been shown to reduce medication requirements and improve the quality of life in those patients who take them. They are the only long-term way to bring symptoms under control in those patients who have significant allergic disease.