How Do Allergy Shots Work?
Allergy shots work much like a vaccine. Your body responds to injected amounts of a particular allergen given in increasing doses, eventually developing a resistance and tolerance to it. Allergy shots can lead to decreased, minimal or no allergy symptoms.
There generally are two phases: build-up and maintenance. Build-up often ranges from two to six months and involves receiving injections with increasing amounts of the allergens. The shots are typically given once or twice a week, though more rapid build-up schedules are sometimes used.
The maintenance phase begins when the most effective dose is reached. This dose is different for each person, depending on how allergic you are and your response to the build-up injections. Once the maintenance dose is reached, there are longer periods between injections, typically two to four weeks.
We offer rapid build-up protocols including “cluster” and “rush” immunotherapy. Multiple doses of allergen immunotherapy are administered in the office requiring fewer office visits. With these rapid schedules, you can complete the build-up in less than 8 weeks.
Occasionally doctors give cortisone-type shots that can temporarily reduce allergy symptoms. These types of shots are different and should not be confused with allergy immunotherapy shots.
Who Can Be Treated with Allergy Shots?
Allergy shots may be a good treatment approach for people with allergic rhinitis (hay fever), allergic asthma, conjunctivitis (eye allergy) or stinging insect allergy.
Allergy shots for children age five and older are effective and often well tolerated. They might prevent the onset of new allergen sensitivities or the progression to asthma.
When Will I Feel Better?
Some may experience decreased allergy symptoms during the build-up phase. For others, it may take as long as 12 months on the maintenance dose. If there is no improvement after a year of maintenance, your allergist will discuss other treatment options with you.
What Is the Length of Treatment?
Once the maintenance dose is reached, allergy shots are generally continued for three to five years. Some people may experience a permanent reduction of allergy symptoms. Others may relapse and a longer course of allergy shots can be considered.
What Are the Possible Reactions?
The two types of adverse reactions that can occur with allergy shots are local and systemic. Common local reactions include very mild redness and swelling at the injection site, which can happen immediately or several hours after.
Rarely, a serious systemic reaction called anaphylaxis can develop. Symptoms include swelling in the throat, wheezing, a feeling of tightness in the chest, nausea or dizziness. Most serious systemic reactions develop within 20 minutes of allergy shots. This is why it is strongly recommended you wait in your doctor’s office for 20 minutes after your injections. Your allergist is trained to watch for reactions, and his or her staff is trained and equipped with the proper medications to identify and treat them.
Who Should Administer Allergy Shots?
The preferred location for receiving shots is your prescribing allergist’s office. Injections can sometimes be given at another facility where the physician and staff are trained to recognize and treat reactions, and have received instructions by your prescribing allergist.