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An allergy is a reaction of your immune system to a foreign substance. It can be pollen, dander from pets, like dogs and cats, or different types of food. When an allergic reaction occurs, it is because your immune system manufactures substances called antibodies that respond to a substance called an allergen. The antibodies produced attack the allergen that your immune system reacts to, as it has identified them as harmful – even though the immune system is mistaken. When your immune system makes antibodies, your body may have a reaction that inflames your skin, your airways, or your digestive system.
There are tools that are available to lessen and even eliminate allergies so you no longer suffer from issues like sinusitis– but for some allergies, the best way to control them is by avoidance. Other methods include nasal sprays, skin creams, eye drops, allergy immunotherapy (allergy shots or allergy drops) and oral medication. This post discusses more details on allergy shots, including their advantages and disadvantages.
Many allergy sufferers feel differently based on the time of year. Outdoor allergies may be mild in some months, then more severe in others as pollen counts change. How you feel depends on the season, your specific allergen triggers and how much time you spend outdoors.
It doesn’t need to be that way, though, as effective treatments are available.
Immunotherapy refers to treatment and management plans that train the immune system to act differently than it normally would. For example, treating your immune system not to react to allergens.
There are multiple types of immunotherapy used for allergies. Subcutaneous immunotherapy (SCIT) refers to immunotherapy that is done under the skin, via a shot. Subcutaneous immunotherapy, then, is another term for allergy shots. SCIT is a long-term treatment designed to reduce the severity of symptoms for allergy sufferers. For some, their allergies may even stop completely. This type of immunotherapy is considered the “gold standard” for allergy treatment.
Allergy shots work by gradually exposing your immune system to the specific substances you’re allergic to, therefore, training it not to react or cause symptoms. If you start immunotherapy, you’ll go into your allergist office for treatment over several years.
During the appointments, you receive an injection(s) filled with your specific allergen(s). Your allergist uses a very limited dose of the allergen at first, then increases it slowly over time. The goal of the treatment is to create an immunity or desensitization to the allergen.
When immunotherapy first begins, you’ll see your allergist once or twice weekly. This is called the build-up phase because you’re building up the amount of the allergen in your system. You will eventually reach a maintenance dose, which is the maximum dose and concentration for your allergens that is considered optimal for therapeutic response.
Once you’re on the maintenance dose, your allergist visits for injections will decrease in frequency in a sequential pattern over time until eventually you will reduce to just monthly appointments. This maintenance phase usually lasts for three to five years (as deemed appropriate by your allergist) for the best therapeutic benefit and long-term relief of your symptoms.
When oral medication and/or avoidance of allergens fail to control a patient’s allergic reaction, allergy, shots also known as immunotherapy or allergy desensitization therapy, may be the solution. There are several benefits for patients who get allergy shots and they include:
As with all types of medical procedures and treatments, allergy desensitization has some drawbacks. Following are some of the more common disadvantages of allergy shots:
Allergy shots can’t treat all allergies, but they can help those with allergies to several different pollens including grasses, trees, and weeds. They are also beneficial for molds, house dust mites, cockroaches and pet dander.
If you have general insect allergies, including an allergy to yellow jackets, hornets, wasps, bees or fire ant, allergy shots could also be a good option.
If you struggle with seasonal allergies, talk to your doctor or allergist about immunotherapy injections.
While we recommend you visit your doctor or allergist to ascertain whether you’re a good candidate for allergy shots, these questions will also help you decide:
As early as ages 3, kids can begin to develop seasonal allergies, leaving many parents wondering what is the best treatment? We also get asked often are allergy shots safe for children. Yes, they are, but this is something that needs to be discussed with your allergist. Children, like adults, sometimes develop a minor reaction near the site of the injection immediately after the allergy shot is given. Simply applying ice to the area and administering an antihistamine can reduce the swelling.
There are rare cases where children can have a more severe reaction, including hives, itching across the body, or difficulty breathing. These are less common but can occur. That is why it’s best to consult with your allergy specialist to determine if an allergy shot is appropriate for your child.
After an allergy shot, the timing of when a patient sees improvements in allergy symptoms largely depends on the individual. However, it can take anywhere from six to 12 months to see a significant reduction in symptoms.
To treat allergic symptoms, many people get allergy shots. These are regular injections administered over time that help reduce symptoms and attacks. Tiny doses of a specific allergen are injected in the body to build up the body’s response to that allergen. Allergy shots are a type of immunotherapy treatment given to help individuals with seasonal allergies, stinging insect allergies, & indoor allergens (such as dust mites, mold & pet dander.)
The side effects of allergy shots are usually minimal. Most commonly, patients will feel slight itching or swelling at the site of the injection. Other people may experience more severe allergy symptoms like sneezing, watery eyes, nasal congestion, and hives. While rare, a person can have a serious reaction, like anaphylaxis, typically within 30 minutes after the shot is given. Therefore, waiting at an allergy office is required after an allergy shot is given. It is important for trained allergy staff to monitor patients after their allergy shots to ensure no reaction occurs.
For more information about allergy treatment and prevention contact any of the 14 offices of the Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center. The offices are staffed allergists that are board certified by the American Board of Allergy and Immunology. Get in touch with us today to schedule your appointment.
Please note: Due to healthcare privacy laws, we cannot answer any questions pertaining to personal health information by e-mail.