Allergy Shots: Could They Help Your Allergies?

Dana Dalbak, PA-C

What are allergy shots?

Allergy shots, also called allergen immunotherapy, is a form of long-term therapy to relieve allergy symptoms.  Allergy shots contain tiny amounts of the specific substances that trigger your symptoms.  These are called allergens.  The shots contain just enough allergen to stimulate the immune system.  Over time, the dose of allergen in the shot is increased.  This enables your body to become used to the allergen (desensitization).  Your immune system can the build up a tolerance to the allergen, resulting in decreased allergy symptoms.

Who can benefit from allergy shots?

Allergy shots are effective in treatment of allergic rhinitis (hayfever), allergic conjunctivitis (eye allergies), allergic asthma (asthma triggered by allergies), and stinging insect allergies.  In children, allergy shots can prevent the progression of allergic disease from hayfever to asthma.  Individuals with frequent sinus infection triggered by allergens show improvement with allergy shots.  Immunotherapy is also effective for some individuals with atopic dermatitis (eczema).

An allergist (a doctor that treats allergies) can determine which patients are most likely to benefit from allergy shots, by evaluating a patient’s symptoms and doing allergy skin testing in the office.  This test will determine the specific type of allergies the patient has.

Who should start allergy shots?

A decision to start allergy shots may be based on several factors:

  • Severity of symptoms
  • Inadequate control of symptoms with medication
  • A desire to avoid or decrease education
  • Length of allergy season
  • Concurrent medical conditions

What allergens are treated with allergy shots?

Common allergens addressed with shots include pollen (tree, weed, grass, and farm pollens), mold, dust mite and pet dander.  Food allergy is not treated with shots.  The best choice for an individual with food allergy is so strictly avoid contact with the offending food.

How often do I get allergy shots?

During the build-up phase, allergy shots are typically given two to three times weekly.  The amount of allergens is gradually increased, allowing the body to become desensitized to the allergen.  The build-up phase usually lasts at lease six months, depending on how often the patient comes for shots.

The patient begins the maintenance phase.  During this phase, shots are gradually spaced out until the patient reaches an interval of just one shot per month.  Once this maintenance interval is reached, shots are usually continued for three to five years.  SOme patients will notice improvement during the build-up phase, others may need to be on immunotherapy for a full year before noticeable symptoms improve. 

Where are shots administered?

Immunotherapy is usually administered in the allergists office.  Every state has their own laws, but in Illinois, they must be administered in a licensed, medical office.  However, for patients whom distance or schedule is a problem, the shot serum may be sent to a physicians’s office closer to the patient, to be administered there. This physician should have the necessary supplies to treat a reaction to a shot in the unlikely event this occurs.

Are there risks?

A typical reaction to a shot includes a slight itch, redness and swelling at the site of the injection.  More serious reactions to shots, include anaphylaxis, are rare, but can occur.  For this reason, patients must wain the the physician’s office for thirty minutes after each injection.  Patients are also instructed in self-treatment of reactions should this occur after leaving the office.

How do I know if shots are right for me?

A visit to an allergists for evaluation of your symptoms are possible skin testing can determine if you are likely to benefit from immunotherapy.  A referral from your primary physician is not necessary unless it is required by your insurance.

Next article: Could It Be Asthma?

Midwest Allergy Sinus Asthma specializes in the treatment of immune-related disorders.  In addition to immunodeficiency, focus is given to the treatment of asthma, allergic rhinitis, hives, food, hypersensitivity, insect sting allergy, and anaphylaxis.  The center has also been a leader in clinical research for over 20 years.  If you suffer from allergies, asthma, COPD, or psoriasis you may qualify to participate in a clinical trial.  You may contact them at (309) 452-0995 or www.asthma2.com.  Their office is located at 2010 Jacobssen Dr. in Normal.