Allergen immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots, is a form of long-term treatment that decreases symptoms for many people with allergic rhinitis, allergic asthma, conjunctivitis (eye allergy.)
Allergy shots decrease sensitivity to allergens and often leads to 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, although not typically recommended for children under age five. Younger children may have difficulties in cooperating with the program and in articulating any negative symptoms they may be experiencing. When considering allergy shots for an older adult, medical conditions such as cardiac disease should be taken into consideration and discussed with your allergist / immunologist first.
You and your allergist / immunologist should base your decision regarding allergy shots on:
- Length of allergy season and severity of your symptoms
- How well medications and/or environmental controls are helping your allergy symptoms
- Your desire to avoid long-term medication use
- Cost, which may vary depending on region and insurance coverage
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:
This involves receiving injections with increasing amounts of the allergens between 3-4 times per week. The length of this phase depends upon how often the injections are received, generally around 8 months.
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, 2 times per week, each 3 days apart from one another. Your allergist / immunologist will decide what range is best for you.
You may notice a decrease in symptoms during the build-up phase. If allergy shots are successful, maintenance treatment is generally continued for 4 months followed by an annual retest to determine if injections are required moving forward for an additional year. Any decision to stop allergy shots should be discussed with your allergist / immunologist.
How Effective Are Allergy Shots?
- Inadequate dose of allergen in the allergy vaccine
- Missing allergens not identified during the allergy evaluation
- High levels of allergen in the environment
- Significant exposure to non-allergic triggers, such as tobacco smoke
- Stopping injections too soon or not following exact directions given by your nurse
Are There Risks?
Anaphylactic shock is rare, yet is something our patients must be educated on, in the event that it may occur. All our patients are comfortable with administering (self or by someone else) allergy shots (immunotherapy.) We give all our patients the proper tools to prevent a reaction and / or if it does occur the steps are thoroughly explained before receiving therapy.