What is an allergy shot?
Allergy shots are injections that are designed to stop or reduce allergy symptoms in a form of treatment called immunotherapy. Each shot contains a small amount of the substance(s) that you are allergic to called allergens. The shot stimulates your immune system, but does not provide enough of the allergen to cause a full allergic reaction. Over time, your body becomes desensitized to the allergens causing your symptoms to decrease.
What allergies can be treated?
- Seasonal allergies – Such as hay fever and pollens released by trees, grasses, or weeds
- Indoor allergies – If your symptoms last throughout the year, you may be reacting to indoor allergens such as dust, mold, or pet dander.
Allergy shots are not used to treat food allergies. The best option for people with food allergies is to carefully avoid that food. These injections are also not used to treat chronic hives (urticaria). This clinic also does not treat allergies related to insect stings.
Who can benefit from allergy shots?
Allergy shots can be beneficial when:
- Over-the-counter medications do not control your symptoms very well and you cannot avoid your allergens.
- Allergy medications interfere with other medications that you need to take or cause unwanted side effects.
- You wish to reduce your long-term use of allergy medication.
- The severity of your allergy symptoms is disruptive to your daily life.
Are there risks?
A common reaction is redness, swelling, or irritation at the injection site. These reactions usually begin within a few hours of the shot, but clear up quickly. Taking an antihistamine medication before getting your shot can reduce the risk of a reaction. Check with your care provider to see if this is best for you.
Serious reactions are rare, but do require immediate medical attention. These symptoms can include sneezing, nasal congestion, hives, throat swelling, wheezing, or chest tightness.
Anaphylaxis is a rare life-threatening reaction to an allergen that affects the body systemically including blood pressure and difficulty breathing.
This clinic has safety measures in place such as requiring you wait 20 minutes after receiving your injection to leave the clinic. If you or your loved one did have a severe reaction, we would be able to intervene immediately. This clinic also requires injections be completed in the clinic to ensure your safety. An additional requirement is for you to carry an unexpired, valid dose of epinephrine.
If you have a severe reaction after you leave, return to the clinic or go to your nearest emergency room.
When you arrive for your shot, let the care provider know if you are not feeling well. This is especially important if you have asthma or other respiratory issues. Also let them know if you had a reaction after a previous allergy shot.
How does it work?
There are two phases:
The build-up phase lasts for about 3-6 months and usually consists of receiving injections 1-2 times per week. During this time, the amount of the allergen will increase gradually to get to a therapeutic dose.
The maintenance phase generally continues for about 3-5 years after the therapeutic dose is reached. During this time, there will be longer breaks in between injections. Your care provider will work with you to determine what schedule is best.
You may notice a decrease in symptoms during the build-up phase, but it can also take as long as 12 months on the maintenance dose to notice a significant improvement. Any decision to discontinue your regimen should be discussed with your care provider.
How do I start?
Before beginning injections, your care provider will perform a skin test or blood test to determine which specific allergens to address.
During a skin test, a small amount of the suspected allergen is scratched into your skin and observed for about 15 minutes. Swelling and redness would indicate an allergy to that substance.
Allergy symptoms will probably not clear up immediately with allergy shots. They typically improve during the first year of treatment, but the most significant improvement is usually seen during the second year. Some people do not have significant allergy symptoms even after completing their treatment, but other people need ongoing shots to keep symptoms controlled.