If you have suffered from seasonal allergies for a while now, and allergy medicines such as antihistamines and even nasal steroid sprays do not alleviate your symptoms, allergy shots could be your best option. Allergy shots have been shown to be very beneficial in numerous world-wide studies and as stated in practice guidelines.
Allergy shots are generally safe and well tolerated, but like all medical treatment has some risk. Most reactions are localized but they can be generalized, called anaphylaxis. It is therefore very important that allergy shots be given under the supervision of a Board Certified Allergist.
What are Allergy Shots?
Allergy shots, also known as allergen immunotherapy, is a form of long-term treatment that decreases symptoms for many people with allergic rhinitis, allergic asthma, conjunctivitis (eye allergy) or allergic eczema. Shots are effective in treating reactions to many allergens, including trees, grass, weeds, mold, dust mites, animal dander, and insect stings.
Allergen immunotherapy is an FDA-approved therapy that helps your body tolerate what it is allergic to. Over time, your symptoms will improve, occur less often and require less medication use. This makes it a cost-effective, beneficial treatment approach for many people.
How Do Allergy Shots Work?
The first injection consists of a small amount of the most dilute extract. Each week the dose is gradually increased until the maintenance dose (highest concentration) is reached. The maintenance dose is reached in about 24 weeks.
After a number of weekly injections at the highest dose, the time between injections is then increased to every two weeks, then three weeks and finally four weeks. After about one year, you will be on a monthly injection schedule.
Therapy is continued for at least three to five years, after which there is sustained benefit for 10 years or longer, even after the shots are stopped. If the shots are stopped prior to a total of three years, the allergic symptoms typically return more quickly.
How Effective are Allergy Shots?
Allergy vaccines are formulated specifically for you based on your environmental allergies, as demonstrated by skin testing. The vaccine uses extracts made from natural proteins of insects, animals, trees, grasses, weeds, and molds. When formulated correctly allergy shots lead to:
- 60-70% reduction in allergy symptoms with a 70% decrease in need of medications.
- Improved asthma control while reducing the need for medications.
- Reduction of an allergic child’s risk of developing asthma by up to 60%.
- Reduced risk of developing new allergies.
- Improved quality of life.
- Long lasting symptom improvement that persists after the treatment is completed.
The effectiveness of allergy shots appears to be related to the length of the treatment program as well as the dose of the allergen. If you have not seen improvement after a year of maintenance therapy, your allergist/immunologist will work with you to discuss treatment options.
Who’s a Good Candidate for Allergy Shots?
Allergy shots require an initial commitment of weekly injections at the doctor’s office. Once the maintenance dose is reached, the frequency may be reduced to once a month for 3-5 years. Allergy shots are effective in treating people with:
- Allergic asthma
- Allergic rhinitis
- Eye allergies or recurring conjunctivitis
- Allergic eczema/atopic dermatitis
- Insect allergies
You may be a good candidate if you experience allergy symptoms year-round or do not want to take medications over a long period of time. This treatment method is effective for sensitivity to inhaled allergens and insect venoms.
Doctors normally give allergy shots to people who are least 5 years old. That’s because children younger than 5 years may not be able to fully communicate potential side effects. Allergy shots also aren’t recommended if you are pregnant, have heart disease or poorly controlled asthma.
Things to Consider
Allergy shots are safe. However, because they contain small amounts of an allergen you are sensitive to, you may have an allergic reaction to the shot itself. Most reactions occur within 30 minutes of an injection, so there is a 30 minute wait time following the allergy shot. Should you have a reaction, your allergist will give you the appropriate medication to stop it.
For more information about allergy treatment and prevention contact Dr. Amy Schiffman in Boca Raton, Florida. She is a board certified by the American Board of Allergy and Immunology. Get in touch with her today to schedule your appointment.