Allergy shots, also called “immunotherapy,” can reduce reactions to allergens and result in less severe symptoms. Unlike medications, an effective period of treatment with allergy shots can result in symptoms that are less severe or disappear altogether, even after allergy shots are stopped. Potential reasons for starting allergy shots include:
- Allergy symptoms are severe enough that the benefit from the shots outweighs the expense and time from getting the shots.
- Allergy symptoms are not being adequately controlled with medications.
- Side effects from medications pose a problem.
- The patient wants treatment for the cause of their allergies rather than treatment for just the symptoms.
- The patient has another condition that is being affected by allergic rhinitis such as asthma, or recurrent sinus or ear infections.
- To reduce the risk of developing asthma.
Allergy shots are effective in treating both allergic rhinitis and allergic asthma. The shots reduce symptoms in patients who are allergic to pollens, animal dander, dust mites, mold, and cockroaches. Allergy shots are most effective when used in combination with medication and environmental controls. Patients taking allergy shots generally require less medication.
When you start immunotherapy, you may initially be asked to come to the office twice a week for shots. This is because initially the serum dosage is very dilute. With each shot, a little more allergen is given until a maintenance dose is reached. This helps the body develop a tolerance to the allergen and symptoms are reduced. Once the maintenance dose is reached, allergy shots are spread out to every other week and eventually once a month. After 6 months to one year, you and your doctor should have a good sense if allergy shots are going to be an effective treatment for you. If they do appear effective, your doctor will recommend a course of allergy shot treatments lasting 3-5 years, generally speaking.
Most patients tolerate allergy shots without incidence, but reactions are possible. To reduce risk, we recommend that patients are observed in the doctor’s office for 20- 30 minutes after each shot. Patients who do not have an EpiPen must stay 30 minutes. It is during this 30 minute time frame that the most serious reactions tend to occur. The risk of having an allergic reaction can be reduced by taking antihistamines prior to receiving your allergy shot. If you receive allergy shots on a regular schedule without missing doses, you are less likely to have a reaction to an allergy shot. Different types of reactions include:
Local Reactions: Redness or swelling at the injection site (usually not a problem).
Systemic Reactions: May include sneezing, nasal congestion or hives. Swelling of the throat or chest tightness may also occur. If you experience these symptoms after receiving an allergy shot in our office, notify a member of our staff immediately.
Anaphylaxis: This is the most severe kind of reaction and it is extremely rare. It can cause low blood pressure and trouble breathing. If this were to occur, symptoms would usually begin within 30 minutes of the injection.
As an extra precaution, we generally recommend that our patients have an EpiPen on hand. If a systemic reaction occurs after you leave the office you should return to our office immediately or go to the emergency room.
For further information or to schedule an appointment, please contact our practice at 410-224-5558.