For some, medications and avoidance of the allergen (the substance that causes the allergic reaction) fail, so allergy shots may be the only option left. Fortunately, allergy shots can alleviate allergic reactions after repeated exposure.
What are allergy shots?
An allergy shot may be used if previous medication and avoidance of the allergen hasn't alleviated the symptoms.
Allergy shots are a kind of treatment known as "subcutaneous immunotherapy."
An allergy shot is a treatment where a person with allergies is given a series of shots that contain allergens. The shots are given over a set period of time so that the individual gets used to the allergens, reducing their body's allergic reaction to them.
Allergies occur when a person's immune system overreacts to a foreign substance and triggers symptoms, such as:
- breathing difficulties
- runny or stuffy nose
- anaphylaxis in extreme cases
Allergy shots treat the immune system's response to an allergen, which is why this type of therapy is known as "immunotherapy."
Uses of allergy shots
People can be allergic to many different things from food to pollen to pet dander.
Unfortunately, allergy shots are not the most effective form of treatment for all allergies. They are, however, recommended for the following allergens:
- pet dander
- mites and cockroaches
- insect stings
Who may benefit
Depending on the allergy, a doctor may prescribe allergy tablets if a person has an aversion to needles.
Usually, people do not try allergy shots as the first line of allergy treatment.
Instead, allergy shots are often the last approach to allergy treatment if other treatment options fail.
Additionally, doctors may recommend allergy shots for a person if they meet any of the following criteria:
- they are allergic to stinging insects
- they want to reduce the use of allergy medications
- they suffer from unpleasant side effects from their allergy medications
- their allergy medication interacts with other medications
Also, people with severe asthma or certain heart conditions should not get allergy shots.
Allergy shots vs. allergy tablets
Allergy tablets may be an option for some people who have allergies, particularly those with an aversion to needles.
Treating an allergy with tablets is known as "sublingual immunotherapy." Allergy pills contain a small amount of a single allergen, and a person places the tablet under their tongue where they dissolve.
Allergy medications are available to purchase online and in pharmacies. However, the only allergy tablets that have been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are for allergies to ragweed and grass pollen.
What to expect
Completing a full course of allergy shots can be a lengthy process that can last for up to 5 years, and even longer in some cases. The process can be broken down into two phases.
The first phase of treatment using allergy shots lasts 3 to 6 months. During this initial phase, a person may have an injection up to three times per week.
Initially, the doses of the allergen will be very low but will increase during this first phase as immunity increases.
The second phase is the maintenance phase. For this phase of the therapy, a person will have an allergy shot about once a month, and many people continue to do so for 5 years or more.
A person receiving allergy shots can expect the following at each appointment:
- Before the injection, the upper arm will be cleaned with alcohol.
- A nurse or technician will administer a shot to the upper arm.
- After the injection, the person receiving the shot will remain at the doctor's office for about 30 minutes to make sure they do not have a severe allergic reaction.
A person getting allergy shots should not expect immediate results. Most people require allergy shots for at least 6 months before they notice a decreased allergic reaction.
Considerations such as cost and time should be considered before treating an allergy with allergy shots.
Side effects from allergy shots are minimal. These side effects include:
- redness and swelling at the injection site
- minor pain at the injection site
- an increase in allergy symptoms following an injection
Most of the time, side effects are relatively mild and can be managed with pain relief or allergy medications.
Allergy shots are a relatively safe form of treatment for allergies. However, there is a fairly small risk of having a severe allergic reaction including anaphylaxis after an allergy shot.
The risk is greatest in the first half hour following the shot, which is why doctors require people to remain in the office for about 30 minutes after having the injection.
Choosing to treat allergies with allergy shots needs to be considered carefully. It is a very time- consuming method of treatment that may be expensive as well, depending on the individual's insurance coverage.
Before deciding whether to treat allergies with allergy shots, a person may want to consider the following:
- the severity of their allergies
- the effectiveness of other treatment options
- the time commitment needed to receive allergy shots
- the cost
Once a person has made the decision to use allergy shots to manage their allergies they will need to commit to the injection schedule.
Allergy symptoms generally start to lessen within 6 months of the initial treatment. Over time, the treatments should greatly reduce allergic reactions.