What to know about allergy shots
Allergy shots are a long-term treatment that aims to decrease the symptoms of allergies over time. They have been shown to reduce allergy sensitivity and provide lasting relief once treatment has finished.
When an allergy shot is given, a small amount of the specific allergen in question is injected into a person's arm, in a similar way to a vaccine.
- Allergy shots are a proven allergy treatment and have been used for more than 100 years.
- Most insurance plans will cover the cost of allergy shots.
- They have been shown to decrease the symptoms of many allergies.
How do they work?
Allergy shots are administered as a course, with the dosage increasing over time.
Over time, the dosage of the allergen will be given in increasing amounts to build up the person's immunity or tolerance.
The treatment will be split into 2 phases.
Injections will usually be given once a week for the first 7 months, although in some cases they can be more frequent. Individuals often notice a decrease in the symptoms of their allergy, during the build-up phase.
After the initial 7 months, an injection every 2 weeks is usually sufficient. Eventually, injections can be given every 4 weeks, and the whole course of treatment will usually last for between 3 and 5 years.
The maintenance phase can often be ongoing for as long as 12 months before a person starts to notice an improvement.
An allergy specialist will decide on the specific dosage and time gaps between the injections and also when to stop allergy shots being given.
Both adults and children can be given allergy shots, although they are not usually recommended for children under the age of 5. This restriction is because of the difficulty of getting young children to cooperate and communicate if they have side effects.
An allergist or immunologist using proper equipment in their office, including treatment for adverse reactions, should give allergy shots.
Are they effective?
They are effective in the treatment of allergic asthma and can relieve allergic reactions that lead to asthma episodes. These benefits can enhance breathing and lessen the need for people with asthma to take asthma medication.
A study conducted by the American College of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) also found that pregnant women, who have allergy shots, during pregnancy, might decrease the chance of their baby developing allergies.
What can affect how well they work?
The effectiveness of the treatment does vary. Often this is to do with the length of the program a person is undertaking or the dose of the allergen.
Some people will have lasting relief while others may have a relapse after treatment has stopped. If a person experiences no improvement after 12 months of allergy shots, it could be due to several factors:
- wrong dose of the allergen in the allergy shot
- missed allergens in the individual when they are first evaluated
- high levels of the allergen in the environment the person is in
- exposure to non-allergic triggers, such as tobacco smoke
If allergy shots are not working, for whatever reason, then an allergist or immunologist will be able to discuss alternative treatment options.
Sneezing and nasal congestion are common side effects of allergy shots.
Normally, the only side effect that people experience after having an allergy shot is redness or swelling at the site of the injection. This can happen immediately after the injection or a few hours afterward.
In some cases, people can experience increased allergy symptoms, such as:
- watery eyes
- nasal congestion
In rare instances, a person can have a serious reaction to an allergy shot. These will mostly occur within 30 minutes of the injection, which is why they are given in the allergist's office, and a person is asked to wait for 30 minutes before leaving.
If a serious reaction occurs, such as anaphylaxis, it will require emergency medical attention.
An anaphylactic shock is when someone has a severe and life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.
Allergens most frequently associated with anaphylaxis include:
- insect stings
Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- swollen throat
- tightness in the chest
Anaphylactic shock needs to be treated immediately with an injection of epinephrine, which is also called adrenaline.
A second anaphylactic reaction called a biphasic reaction can occur up to 12 hours after the initial shock.
Types of immunotherapy
Sublingual immunotherapy, or SCIT, is an alternative to allergy shots. Discussing different tretment plans is important, as they offer different benefits.
Allergy shots have traditionally been the most common form of immunotherapy and are known as subcutaneous immunotherapy or SCIT.
This treatment is when an allergen is injected under the skin.
There is now a newer form of immunotherapy called sublingual immunotherapy or SLIT.
With this, instead of the allergen being injected under the skin, it is administered, as a tablet or a drop, under the tongue.
The issue with SLIT treatments is that they are limited to one type of allergen, but most people with allergies will have more than one. In contrast, allergy shots can give relief to more than 1 type of allergen at the same time.
It is important for someone to speak to their allergist about what the best course of immunotherapy is for them.
In some cases, it may require a co-pay or deductible, depending on the specific insurance plan, so it is worth contacting the insurance provider to determine the benefits they have.
The cost of allergy shots without insurance can vary considerably. Healthsparq has estimated that the price ranges from $15 to $170.
It is also worth bearing in mind that while allergy shots can be expensive, the overall cost of medical treatment may be less, as this treatment can cut down on the cost of other medication needed for allergies.