Allergy shots, also referred to as allergy injections or immunotherapy, are in essence a series of injections to control allergy systems. Allergy shots desensitizes allergy patients to their specific allergens and is the only way to "turn off" the immune system's reactions. Allergy patients frequently choose to get rid of their allergies and become medication "free." During immunotherapy, the patient will gradually develop a stronger tolerance of his or her allergens. With allergy shots, your allergy symptoms can be decreased, minimized or even eliminated.
You should consider allergy shots if complete avoidance of your allergens is impossible or if you:
have moderate to severe allergies
have frequent respiratory tract infections
do not respond to allergy medications
would prefer to avoid a lifetime of allergy medication use
are willing to commit to a regularly scheduled treatment plan
have chronic sinusitis or asthma due to allergies
Allergies shots work like a vaccine. Whereas a vaccine contains traces of a specific disease of bacteria, allergy shots contain traces of your specific allergens--the very things that trigger an allergic reaction from your immune system. By gradually increasing the doses of your allergen, your body develops an immunity and/or tolerance to that allergen. In essence, allergy shots turn off an inappropriate immune response--your allergic reaction to a plant, tree, pet or mold--while still allowing your immune system to respond normally to infectious agents, especially viruses.
Allergy shots occur in tow phases:
a. Build-up phases: involves a routine of injections with increasing amounts of allergens. The frequency of injections generally ranges from one to three times a week with an average duration of three to six months.
b. Maintenance phase: begins when the effective therapeutic dose is achieved. Once this maintenance does is reached, the time between treatments will increase, ranging from every one to four weeks.
You may begin to see the benefits of allergy shots during the build-up phase, but it may take as long as 12 months on the maintenance dose to start seeing significant results. On average, maintenance therapy is continued for three to five years.
You must be willing to commit to a regular schedule of allergy shots treatment, with the main commitment period occurring the first 18 months. Although some people may consider this an inconvenience, a three- to five-year commitment to allergy shots is minimal compared to a lifetime of taking over-the-counter drugs or prescription medications.
Also, you must be able to receive allergy shots by a healthcare provider at a facility with proper staff and equipment so that any potential adverse reactions can be identified and treated. It is recommended that you remain in the office 20 to 30 minutes after receiving your allergy shots to ensure that the injected allergen does not cause any adverse reactions.
Two types of adverse reactions can occur with allergy shots: local and/or systemic.
a. Local: Local reactions are more common than systemic and appear as redness and swelling at the injection site. They can occur immediately or several hours after treatment and are not serious. Future local reactions can be prevented by adjusting the dosage of your allergy shot.
b. Systemic: Systemic reactions are uncommon and are usually mild. They require immediate treatment, but respond quickly to medications.
Rarely, a serious systemic reaction called anaphylaxis can develop. Symptoms of anaphylaxis can include swelling in the throat, wheezing or a sensation or tightness in the chest, nausea or dizziness. The majority of adverse reactions develop within 20 minutes after the injection, which is why you should commit to remaining in the office in case such a reaction should occur.
Allergy shots can be started at any age. Recent studies suggest the allergy shots may prevent development of new allergies in children and also may prevent the development of childhood asthma.