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 mite cockroach, cat, 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 (hay fever) 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?
An allergy occurs when your immune system mistakes a harmless substance for a dangerous one and triggers the release of chemicals into your body. The release of chemicals create symptoms like a runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, and itching. In some cases, more serious symptoms like coughing or wheezing, swelling of the throat and tongue can occur, 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 the cost of the medications is a burden, allergy shots are very cost effective compared to the use of daily prescription medications over several years.
Children can also receive allergy shots. The age in which shots may be recommended to young children is done on a case-by-case basis. Research has also shown that allergy shots can prevent children who have allergic rhinitis from getting asthma.
How Often Do I Need Allergy Shots?
At the beginning, allergy shots are usually administered two to three times per week. With this 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 the maintenance phase 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 three 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.
Family Allergy & Asthma also offers two accelerated approaches, cluster allergy shots, which take 4-9 weeks and Rush allergy shots, which requires 1 full day appointment. 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 a significant allergic disease.
Don’t suffer from untreated allergies. Schedule an appointment today with one of our board-certified allergists, and move towards a clearer tomorrow.
Alternatives to Allergy Shots
The FDA has recently approved oral immunotherapy tablets for sale within the US. There are now three allergy tablets approved by the FDA:
Oralair (5 different grasses)
Grastek (timothy grass)
These are all fast-dissolving tablets that are placed under the tongue and contain specific pollen extracts. They are meant to be taken at least 12 weeks prior to the start of the grass or ragweed season.
The concept is the same as allergy shots; build up your tolerance to bothersome allergens through consistent exposure. Family Allergy & Asthma’s Research Institute participated in the clinical trials of the grass tablets. In general, they are less effective than allergy shots. Allergy shots have an effectiveness of over 80%. Allergy tablets are in the range of 40-60% effective. Tablets are generally not the best option for patients who are allergic to multiple things, though may be a good option for someone allergic only to grass or ragweed.
Additional Information on the Tablets:
-Allergy tablets require a prescription, and it is required that a patient is allergy tested prior to being prescribed the tablet(s).
-The cost of the tablets will vary based on your insurance. At this time, we expect the cost to be comparable to allergy shots for most patients.
Sublingual Immunotherapy is often referred to as allergy drops. The antigens used in allergy drops are the same ones that are used in allergy shots, they are just taken orally versus having them injected into the arm. Research has shown allergy drops to be less effective than allergy shots in the treatment of allergies and drops pose some additional challenges to patients who are allergic to multiple items.
Currently, allergy drops are NOT approved by the FDA, though their usage is fairly common and completely legal. The lack of FDA approval does mean that insurance will not cover allergy drops and patients will be responsible for the full cost. Even so, for some patients, allergy drops will still make sense and we are glad to discuss the pros and cons of allergy drops so you can make an informed decision.
Family Allergy & Asthma offers a variety of treatment options for our patients, including allergy shots, tablets, and drops. We recommend you schedule an appointment with one of our allergists to find out what you’re allergic to and to review which treatment option makes the most sense for you.