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Allergy Shots Pros & Cons

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Jennifer L. Caicedo, MD
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Jennifer L. Caicedo, MD

An overview of allergy shots, how the work, and if they are right for you

Allergy shots, also known as allergen immunotherapy, are a form of treatment for allergies. They involve receiving injections of a small amount of the allergen that causes your symptoms, gradually increasing the dose over time. The goal of allergy shots is to help your immune system build up a tolerance to the allergen, reducing or eliminating your allergic symptoms. Allergy shots are typically recommended for people with severe or chronic allergies that do not respond well to medications or other treatments. They can be effective in reducing symptoms and improving quality of life, but they are not a cure for allergies and may not work for everyone. It’s important to discuss the risks and benefits of allergy shots with your doctor to determine if they are a good option for you.


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When to Consider Allergy Shots

Allergy shots, also known as immunotherapy, may be a good option for people who suffer from severe or chronic allergies that do not respond well to medications or other treatments. They may also be recommended for people who want to avoid long-term use of allergy medications, or for those who have serious allergies that can lead to anaphylaxis.

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


How do Allergy Shots Work?

Allergy shots work by gradually exposing the immune system to small amounts of the allergen over time, allowing the body to build up a tolerance to it. This process typically involves receiving injections of the allergen extract once or twice a week for several months, followed by maintenance injections every few weeks or months for up to five years or longer.

Allergy shots can be effective in reducing or eliminating allergic symptoms, and they may also reduce the risk of developing new allergies or asthma. However, they are not a cure for allergies and may not work for everyone. It’s important to discuss the risks and benefits of allergy shots with your doctor to determine if they are a good option for you.


Allergy Shots Build-up Phase and Maintenance Phase

The build-up phase and maintenance phase are two important stages of allergen immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots.

During the build-up phase, the patient receives injections of the allergen extract once or twice a week. The dose of the allergen is gradually increased over time until a target dose is reached. The goal of this phase is to help the immune system build up a tolerance to the allergen gradually. The length of the build-up phase can vary depending on the patient’s response, but it typically lasts around three to six months.

After the target dose is reached, the maintenance phase begins. During this phase, the patient receives injections of the allergen extract at the target dose. The frequency of the injections is reduced to every few weeks or months, and the patient continues with this schedule for up to five years or longer. The goal of the maintenance phase is to help the patient maintain their tolerance to the allergen.

It’s important to note that the build-up and maintenance phases can vary depending on the individual patient and their specific allergy treatment plan. The length of the phases and the frequency of injections may be adjusted based on the patient’s response and symptoms.


Allergy Shot Effectiveness

Allergy shots can be an effective treatment option for certain types of allergies. The effectiveness of allergy shots can vary depending on the individual patient and their specific allergy treatment plan. Here are some factors that can affect the effectiveness of allergy shots:

  • Type of allergy: Allergy shots are typically most effective for allergies to substances like pollens, molds, and house dust mites. They may not be as effective for food allergies or other types of allergies.
  • Duration of treatment: Allergy shots require a significant time commitment, particularly during the initial build-up phase. Patients typically need to receive injections once or twice a week for several months, followed by maintenance injections every few weeks or months for up to five years or longer. The longer a patient receives allergy shots, the greater the potential for long-term symptom relief.
  • Compliance with treatment: It’s important for patients to be consistent with their allergy shot treatment plan and attend all scheduled appointments. Missing injections or discontinuing treatment early can reduce the effectiveness of allergy shots.
  • Severity of allergy symptoms: Allergy shots are typically recommended for people with severe or chronic allergies that do not respond well to medications or other treatments. The more severe the allergy symptoms, the greater the potential benefit of allergy shots.
  • Individual response to treatment: Some patients may respond better to allergy shots than others. It’s important to discuss the potential risks and benefits of allergy shots with your doctor and to monitor your response to treatment.

Allergy shots can be an effective treatment option for reducing or even eliminating allergy symptoms. They may also prevent the development of new allergies or the progression of allergies to asthma. However, they are not a cure for allergies and may not work for everyone. It’s important to discuss the potential risks and benefits of allergy shots with your doctor to determine if they are a good option for you.


Benefits of Allergy Shots

  • Reduces or eliminates symptoms:
    • Allergy shots can help reduce or even eliminate allergy symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, and congestion. Once the immune system has built up a tolerance to the allergen, the benefits of allergy shots can last for several years or even permanently.
  • Improves quality of life:
    • By reducing allergy symptoms, allergy shots can help improve a person’s overall quality of life, allowing them to participate in daily activities without interruption.
  • Decreases the need for medication
    • Oral medications may provide temporary relief from allergy symptoms, the benefits of allergy shots can last for several years or even permanently.
    • While oral medications like antihistamines and nasal sprays can help alleviate allergy symptoms, they do not address the root cause of the allergies. Allergy shots work by helping the immune system build up a tolerance to the allergen, addressing the underlying cause of the allergies.
  • May prevent the development of new allergies
    • While allergy shots may not provide a complete cure for allergies, they can be effective in reducing or even eliminating allergy symptoms. By building up the immune system’s tolerance to the allergen, allergy shots can provide long-term relief and even prevent the development of new allergies.
  • May prevent the progression of allergies to asthma:
    • Allergy shots may help prevent the progression of allergies to asthma, a serious respiratory condition that can be triggered by allergies.
  • Cost-effectiveness:
    • While allergy shots may require an upfront cost, they can be a cost-effective solution in the long run. By reducing the need for allergy medication and preventing the development of new allergies, allergy shots can help reduce healthcare costs over time.

Disadvantages of Allergy Shots

While allergy immunotherapy, or allergy shots, can be an effective treatment option for allergies, there are some potential disadvantages and risks to consider. Here are some of the potential drawbacks:

  • Effectiveness limited to certain allergies:
    • Allergy shots may not be effective for all types of allergies. They are typically most effective for allergies to substances like pollen, dust mites, and pet dander. Allergy shots may not be as effective for food allergies or other types of allergies.
  • Possible side effects:
    • Allergy shots can have some potential side effects, including redness, swelling, and itching at the injection site. In rare cases, allergy shots can cause anaphylaxis, a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. It’s important to discuss the risks and benefits of allergy shots with your doctor and to seek medical attention immediately if you experience any unusual symptoms after receiving an allergy shot.
  • Time commitment required:
    • Allergy shots require a significant time commitment, particularly during the initial build-up phase. Patients typically need to receive injections once or twice a week for several months. Even after the build-up phase is complete, patients still need to receive maintenance injections every few weeks or months for several years or longer.
  • Initial worsening of allergy symptoms:
    • In some cases, allergy symptoms may temporarily worsen after starting allergy shots. This is known as a “flare-up” reaction and typically occurs during the initial build-up phase. While this can be uncomfortable, it is generally a sign that the allergy shots are working and the immune system is building up a tolerance to the allergen.

It’s important to discuss the potential risks and benefits of allergy shots with your doctor to determine if they are a good option for you. While allergy shots may not be suitable for everyone, they can be an effective treatment option for people with severe or chronic allergies.


Which Allergies Can Allergy Shots Treat?

Allergy shots, also known as allergen immunotherapy, can be effective in treating certain types of allergies. An allergist can determine which type of allergy test is best for you. Here are some allergies that can be treated with allergy shots:

  • Pollens, molds, and house dust mites: Allergy shots can be effective in treating allergies to substances like pollens, molds, and house dust mites. These are common allergens that can cause symptoms like sneezing, congestion, and itchy eyes.
  • General insect allergies: Allergy shots may also be used to treat allergies to insect stings, such as honey bee, wasp, & yellow jacket. In some cases, allergy shots may also be used to treat allergies to insect droppings, like those from cockroaches.

It’s important to note that the effectiveness of allergy shots can vary depending on the individual and their specific allergy treatment plan. Your doctor can help determine if allergy shots are a good option for your specific allergies and symptoms.


Are Allergy Shots Right for You?

If you are suffering from severe or chronic allergies, you may be wondering if allergy shots are a good treatment option for you. Here are some factors to consider when determining if allergy shots are right for you:

  • Factors to consider:
    • Severity of symptoms: Allergy shots are typically recommended for people with severe or chronic allergies that do not respond well to medications or other treatments.
    • Type of allergies: Allergy shots are most effective for allergies to substances like pollens, molds, and house dust mites. They may not be effective for food allergies or other types of allergies.
    • Time commitment: Allergy shots require a significant time commitment, particularly during the initial build-up phase. Patients typically need to receive injections once or twice a week for several months.
    • Cost: Allergy shots can be expensive, particularly if they are not covered by insurance.
  • What other treatments have been tried: Before considering allergy shots, it’s important to explore other treatment options for allergies, such as over-the-counter or prescription medications, nasal sprays, and avoidance of allergens.
  • Allergy shots for children: Allergy shots may be a good option for children with severe or chronic allergies, but the decision to pursue this treatment should be made in consultation with a pediatrician or allergist.

It’s important to discuss the potential risks and benefits of allergy shots with your doctor to determine if they are a good option for you. While allergy shots may not be suitable for everyone, they can be an effective treatment option for people with severe or chronic allergies.


Allergy Shots FAQs

If you are considering allergy shots as a treatment option for allergies, you may have some questions. Here are some frequently asked questions about allergy shots:

How long does it take for allergy shots to work?

Allergy shots can take several months or even years to provide maximum benefit. During the initial build-up phase, which typically lasts around three to six months, the dose of the allergen is gradually increased until a target dose is reached. After that, the maintenance phase begins, during which the patient receives injections at the target dose to maintain their tolerance. The length of the maintenance phase can vary depending on the patient’s response, but it typically lasts several years or longer. 

What kind of shots are given for allergies?

Allergy shots involve receiving injections of a small amount of the allergen that causes your symptoms, gradually increasing the dose over time. The allergen extract may be customized to address the specific allergens that are causing the patient’s symptoms.

What are the side effects of allergy shots?

Allergy shots can have some potential side effects, including redness, swelling, and itching at the injection site. In rare cases, allergy shots can cause anaphylaxis, a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. It’s important to discuss the risks and benefits of allergy shots with your doctor and to seek medical attention immediately if you experience any unusual symptoms after receiving an allergy shot.

Other potential side effects of allergy shots may include:

  • Sneezing, runny nose, or nasal congestion
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Stomach cramps or diarrhea

It’s important to note that side effects of allergy shots can vary depending on the individual patient and their specific allergy treatment plan. Your doctor can help determine if allergy shots are a good option for your specific allergies and symptoms, and can provide guidance on managing any potential side effects.


Learn More About Allergy Shots from Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center

For more information about allergy treatment and prevention contact any of the 15 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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To schedule or request an appointment with one of our physicians, please call 704-372-7900