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Posted on: April 07, 2020

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 needn’t be that way, though, as effective treatments are available.

An allergy is a reaction of your immune system to a foreign substance. It can be pollen, dander from pets, like dogs and cats, to different types of food. When an allergic reaction occurs, it is because your immune system manufacturers 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.

Allergy Treatment

There are tools that are available to lessen and even eliminate allergies – 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.

The benefits and disadvantages of allergy shots (subcutaneous immunotherapy).

What Is Immunotherapy? Is It the Same as Allergy Shots?

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.

How Do Allergy Shots Work?

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.

Benefits of Allergy Immunotherapy

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:

  • Some people don’t tolerate oral medications well. These patients might do better with allergy shots so long as needles and injections do not bother the individual. Though shots are taken on a weekly schedule that becomes monthly, after three to five years the shots may be ended when the response is permanent.
  • While the cost of allergy shots is more expensive than oral over-the-counter medication, in the long run, allergy shots are less expensive than oral medications as patients do not need shots forever.
  • Allergy medications taken by mouth treat the symptoms of allergies, but, allergy shots treat the causes of allergic responses. When immunotherapy is successful, patients enjoy a complete cure as the shots treat the underlying causes of allergies rather than the symptoms.

Disadvantages of Allergy Immunotherapy

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:

  • Immunotherapy does not work on every type of allergy. It is true that shots work well for common allergies such as pet dander, pollen, dust, and other pollutants found in the home. Shots are ineffective for treating food allergies and urticaria. Urticaria causes chronic hives related to an underlying disease such as hyperthyroidism or lupus. In addition, insect venom allergies such as bee stings or spider bites cannot be prevented by allergy shots.
  • Some patients have a reaction that shows up as redness, swelling, and tenderness at the injection site. However, injection site reactions usually last just one day.
  • Occasionally, certain patients balk at the time commitment needed for successful allergy prevention. Missing appointments can delay or derail relief from allergies.
  • Allergy shots can worsen allergy symptoms at first when the injection regimen starts.
  • Since allergy shots rarely cause anaphylaxis, patients must wait in their physician’s office for 30 minutes until the danger of anaphylaxis passes.

Which Allergies Can Allergy Shots Treat?

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 yellowjackets, 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.

Are Allergy Shots Right for You?

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:

  • What are your allergies? If you’re allergic to one or more of the substances listed above, then allergy shots can help lessen your symptoms. However, if you have an allergy to latex, drugs, or certain foods, immunotherapy is not recommended.
  • How bad are your allergies? If symptoms persist for longer than three out of 12 months or are impacting your daily activities then allergy shots may provide more relief than other treatment methods.
  • What other treatments have you tried? If you’re on a prescription antihistamine or another medication from an allergist but these don’t help your symptoms, let your allergist know. They could recommend immunotherapy as your next treatment.
  • Are you okay with needles? If you have a severe fear of or significant discomfort associated with needles, then you might want to rethink allergy shots. While it’s true the injections become less frequent as the treatment goes on, it will take a while to get there. You may want to discuss sublingual immunotherapy or SLIT with your allergist. This treatment involves you taking tablets or drops under your tongue instead of receiving injections.

Learn More About Allergy Shots from Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center

For more information about allergy treatment and prevention contact any of the 11 Charlotte, NC 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.

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