Allergy shots (also known as allergen immunotherapy) is a form of treatment provided by allergists that decreases symptoms for many common allergies. Those allergies include conjunctivitis (eye allergy), allergic asthma, allergic rhinitis (hay fever), or stinging insect allergy. Allergy shots work by decreasing sensitivity to allergens and often leads to long-term relief of allergy symptoms. It’s considered a cost-effective, beneficial approach to allergy treatment for many patients.
Who Benefits From Allergy Shots?
Allergy shots are not typically recommended for children under the age of five, most older children and adults can receive allergy shots. Younger children may find it difficult to cooperate with a program and may not be able to describe any adverse reaction they may experience from the shots.
When treating older adults, allergists have to take into consideration other medical issues a patient may have, such as cardiac disease.
Your allergist/immunologist will use the following criteria to determine if allergy shots are right for your treatment:
- How well environmental controls and/or medications are currently working to control allergy symptoms.
- The amount of time you have available for treatment. Allergy shots require frequent visits to our office and a 30-minute waiting period after the shots are administered.
- Severity of your symptoms
- Length of allergy season
- Whether you would like to avoid long-term medication use to control your symptoms.
- Your cost, which could vary widely based on your insurance coverage.
Allergy shots are not used to treat patients with food allergies; the best option is to simply avoid eating the foods that cause a reaction. Be sure to start with proper allergy testing to determine which foods you may trigger your allergy symptoms.
What Makes Allergy Shots Effective?
Allergy shots function similar to a vaccine: your body is injected with gradually-increasing doses of a particular allergen, which allows your immune system to develop immunity or tolerance to the allergen over time.
Allergy shots involve two phases:
- Build-up: During the build-up phase, you’ll receive injections about once or twice per week with increasing amounts of the allergy. This phase generally lasts from three to six months, but depends on how often the injections are received.
- Maintenance: This phase starts once the effective dose of allergen is reached. What’s an effective dose? It depends on your level of sensitivity to the allergen and how your body responds during the build-up phase. During this phase, there are longer periods of time between treatments ranging from two to four weeks. Your allergist will decide what range will work best for you.
During the build-up phase, you may notice a decrease of allergy symptoms; however, it may take as long as 12 months on a maintenance dose to see any noticeable improvement.
If allergy shots are successful, we will generally continue the maintenance treatment for three to five years. Any decision to stop allergy shots should be discussed with your allergist/immunologist.
How Effective Are Allergy Shots?
Allergy shots can decrease symptoms for many common allergies, prevent the patient from developing new allergies, and it can prevent the progression from allergic rhinitis to asthma in children.
Effectiveness of allergy shots is apparently related to the length of treatment and the dose of the allergen. Some people may experience long-term relief from their allergy symptoms, while others may relapse after stopping their allergy shot program.
Generally, if you have not seen improvement after a full year of maintenance therapy, our allergists will work with you to discuss alternative treatment options.
We’ve seen some patients fail to respond to allergy shots because of several factors:
- Exposure to non-allergic triggers, such as tobacco smoke.
- Inadequate dose of allergen in the allergy vaccine.
- Allergens not identified during the evaluation that are missing from the vaccine.
Where Will I Receive Allergy Shots?
Our staff administers allergy shots during special clinic hours in our offices, which are equipped with proper staff and equipment to identify and treat adverse reactions to the injections.
What Are the Risks Associated with Allergy Shots?
Typical reactions might include swelling and redness at the site of the injection. This can happen immediately, or hours after the injections are given. We sometimes see patients display increased allergy symptoms, such as nasal congestion, hives or sneezing for a short time.
While serious reactions to allergy shots are rare, they do require immediate medication attention. A severe reaction is called anaphylaxis, and is indicated by wheezing, swelling in the throat, tightness in the chest, dizziness and/or nausea. Having a trained medical professional present to treat the patient is very important if such a reaction occurs.
Since most serious reactions occur within 30 minutes of the treatment, we require our patients to wait in our office for at least that amount of time after receiving an allergy shot.
Should I Get Allergy Shots?
If you think you might benefit from receiving allergy shots, or would just like to find out what specific allergens trigger your symptoms, schedule an appointment through our online scheduling page or call 404.255.9286.
Our award-winning, board certified allergists are available for a wide range of appointment times. We offer same-day appointments, short wait times, five convenient locations in the Atlanta metro area, and you’ll always speak to a live person if you call during our office hours.