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Allergy shots are a type of allergy treatment that helps individuals reduce their sensitivity to different allergens, thus decreasing their symptoms.
Allergy shots fall under the category of immunotherapy, which uses the body’s immune system to achieve a desired result. In this case, immunotherapy exposes the body to small amounts of one or more allergens, training it not to react. As the body gets used to the allergen, symptoms decrease.
Allergy shots are often referred to as subcutaneous immunotherapy (SCIT), which means immunotherapy that’s administered through an injection under the skin. Each allergy shot contains various allergens that the individual is allergic to. The treatment begins with very small doses of allergen. As the allergy shot treatment progresses, each shot gives the body exposure to the allergen in greater dosages. The goal of the treatment is to change how the immune system behaves, which in turn lessens allergy symptom severity.
Allergy shots work over a period of months or years. The treatment begins with frequent allergy shots, typically once or twice a week, then decreases so you receive shots less often. The entire allergy shot build up phase will occur over a period of around three to six months, but can continue for years, depending on your allergist’s recommendations.
Allergy shots are approved to treat multiple types of conditions, including:
To treat each of these types of allergies, allergy shots will isolate the allergens that an individual is sensitive to. For example, if you have allergic rhinitis caused by pollen and dust, allergy shots will gradually expose your body to small amounts of pollen and dust to help you build up a tolerance.
*Unfortunately, food allergies are not treated with allergy shots due to the significant side effects and risks associated with this treatment.
Most adults and children can receive allergy shots. However, young children under the age of five are not generally recommended for allergy shot treatment. If you’re interested, you can contact your current board-certified allergy and asthma specialist at Carolina Asthma and Allergy Center to start the process.
Before undergoing SCIT, you should speak with your allergist about what the source of your allergies. In most instances, the allergist may call for allergy testing using your skin or blood to better pinpoint the allergens causing your symptoms. They’ll also give you detailed information about allergy shots, the specific type of treatment you’ll be receiving, cost, and timeframe.
If you decide to move forward with the treatment, we will prepare your personalized allergen extracts based on allergy testing. The allergy shots are never given at home; instead, your allergist or another medical professional will administer the shots in their office.
You receive the allergy shots on the back of your upper arms. Each shot will contain a combination of allergens. The dose of the allergy shots increases with time. At first, individuals receive shots frequently usually 1-2 times per week. The frequency of allergy shots will decrease with time to about one shot per month.
The efficacy of allergy shots varies depending on the person, the severity of their allergies, and how long you receive the treatment. In most cases, allergy shots are very effective. They can greatly decrease your sensitivity to allergens, reducing or eliminating your symptoms. In addition, allergy shots can help prevent you from developing new allergies.
Another benefit of allergy shots is the prevention of asthma in children.
We recommend that individuals who begin allergy shots stick with the treatment for at least a year, even if results are minimal at first. It takes time for the immune system to get used to the allergens and change its reaction. After a year, if you don’t notice an improvement, then you should talk to your allergist. They can assess why the allergy shots aren’t working and recommend something else instead.
While it’s not the same for every patient, you’ll get allergy shots once or twice every week during the buildup phase. The buildup phase is at the very start of your treatment and is the time period when you’ll receive the most frequent shots.
Your allergist will determine how long the buildup phase lasts. It depends on how much of the allergen you’re receiving as well as what your max dose is that you’re working up to. After the buildup phase, you’ll go into a “maintenance” period, where your allergist will decrease the frequency at which you need to come in for shots.
Accelerated immunotherapy, also known as cluster allergy shots, is an alternative to traditional allergy shots that speeds up the timeline of both the injections and the results. Instead of the usual 3-6 month buildup phase and accelerated immunotherapy delivers the buildup phase in 2-3 months. In this case, the buildup period is used to produce rapid desensitization to allergens.
The schedule of shots during rapid desensitization will vary based on individual needs and allergist recommendations but can include up to 3 shots in one day. Each individual shot is the equivalent of multiple traditional allergy shots, which helps build up your body’s tolerance to allergens more quickly.
After rapid desensitization, patients receive maintenance shots at a decreasing interval similar to the maintenance period in traditional allergy shot therapy.
Benefits of accelerated or cluster immunotherapy include:
Accelerated immunotherapy is an option for certain individuals depending on their allergies, health, and tolerance to injections. To see if you’re a candidate, speak to your allergist at Carolina Asthma & Allergy.
In most cases, health insurance will cover allergy shot treatment since it is an FDA approved treatment. However, insurance coverage depends on your provider and your plan. You may have a copay or deductible you need to meet first, in which case some or all expenses may be out-of-pocket.
Most individuals who undergo allergy shot treatment pay little to no money when the treatment is covered by insurance. For those that do not have coverage, SCIT therapy prices vary.
If you have allergies to stinging insects or you experience conjunctivitis, allergic asthma, and/or allergic rhinitis and other treatments have not worked, then you might consider allergy shots. Allergy shots are also a good option for individuals with severe or disruptive allergies because they can result in a noticeable improvement in quality of life. Finally, if you are looking for a way to decrease taking all of your allergy medications like tablets and nasal sprays, allergy shots can offer an alternative therapy.
If you are thinking of starting allergy shots, please make an appointment with one of our board-certified allergists to see if you are a good candidate. This is your first step to leading a full life without worrying about your allergies!