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How Do Allergy Shots Work To Cure Allergies

How Do You Prepare For An Allergy Shot

How Do Allergy Shots Work

Before you start allergy shots, youll need a full evaluation. The doctor needs to test your allergies to know exactly which substances to use in the shots.

For example, if you have allergies during pollen season, theyll test for which types of pollen cause your symptoms. Ragweed, grasses, and various tree pollens are common culprits.

Allergy testing usually consists of skin pricking. During a skin prick test, your doctor will prick the skin on your back or forearm with several types of allergens to determine which ones cause reactions.

A type of specialist known as an allergist or an immunologist will conduct all testing and treatment with allergy shots.

Once your doctor has identified your allergens, youll start receiving allergy shots. The process is broken down into two phases:

  • buildup
  • maintenance

How Is Slit Administered

The first SLIT dose is always administered in the doctors office, similar to allergy shots. Then patients can take the tablets at home. But epinephrine auto-injectors must be available in case of a severe allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis.

  • Patients using SLIT tablets for grass and ragweed pollen should start taking them 4-12 months prior to the start of their pollen season. They should be taken throughout the entire pollen season, for best effectiveness. Tablets for certain grass pollens are available for children as young as 5 years old. Ragweed tablets are for patients 18-65.
  • Patients using SLIT tablets for house dust mites should take them year-round. It can take 8-14 weeks of daily dosing to experience a noticeable benefit. The tablets are indicated for patients 18-65 years of age.

Another form of SLIT involves drops of liquid allergen extracts held under the tongue. This is not approved for use in the United States. The treatment is typically not reimbursed by health insurance.

Allergy Shots Are Effective

Allergy shots are usually a very effective way of treating chronic allergies. It may take some time, but most people find that regular shots can help them when other common treatments havent worked. Studies show that 85% of people who suffer from hay fever see a reduction in their symptoms when they receive shots.

Many people avoid allergy shots because theyre afraid of injections. But the benefit is that the pain of an injection lasts just a moment while the relief of no more symptoms can last a lifetime.

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Benefits Risks And More

When medications fail to adequately control allergy symptoms and avoidance of the trigger is not easy or possible, an allergist may recommend immunotherapy or allergy shots. This treatment consists of a series of injections containing small amounts of the substances to which a person is allergic.

After a course of allergy shots, patients have fewer allergy symptoms. Allergy shots can be given for allergic rhino-conjunctivitis , allergic asthma, and insect sting allergies.

Verywell / Alex Dos Diaz

Can Allergy Shots Help Kids

Allergy shots (immunotherapy): Efficacy, side effects, and ...

Yes! Allergy shots can be started at any age. The age in which shots may be recommended for young children is done on a case-by-case basis.

Research has also shown that allergy shots can prevent children who have allergic rhinitis from getting asthma. Treating the underlying cause of allergies in children can help prevent other sinus problems, improve quality of life, and help prevent your child from missing school due to allergy and asthma symptoms.

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Waiting To Get Help Good Or Bad

One thing you do know for sure, if you start wheezing, get super dizzy, begin having difficulty breathing or your face and tongue swell. You realize now its time to call and schedule an appointment with your doctor immediately.

Finally, you begin to think you need to be a little more proactive. Before you get to the point of a need to go to the emergency room, you better make an appointment to see an allergy doctor.

They’re A Big Time Commitment

Allergy shots are given in two phases. In the “build-up” phase, you’ll need a shot once or twice a week for about three to six months. After that, you’ll enter the “maintenance” phase and receive them less oftenabout once or twice a month, for several years.

Sticking to this schedule is important, for the shots’ effectiveness and to reduce your chances of having a bad reaction. “For some people it’s absolutely worth it, but some people just don’t have that time to spare,” says Dr. Dziadzio. And while the shots themselves only take a minute, you probably will have to wait those 30 minutes in your doctor’s office after each one.

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Disadvantages Of Allergy Immunotherapy

As with all types of medical procedures and treatments, allergy desensitization has some drawbacks. Following are some of the more common disadvantages of allergy shots:

  • Immunotherapy does not work on every type of allergy. It is true that shots work well for common allergies such as pet dander, pollen, dust, and other pollutants found in the home. Shots are ineffective for treating food allergies and urticaria. Urticaria causes chronic hives related to an underlying disease such as hyperthyroidism or lupus. In addition, insect venom allergies such as bee stings or spider bites cannot be prevented by allergy shots.
  • Some patients have a reaction that shows up as redness, swelling, and tenderness at the injection site. However, injection site reactions usually last just one day.
  • Occasionally, certain patients balk at the time commitment needed for successful allergy prevention. Missing appointments can delay or derail relief from allergies.
  • Allergy shots can worsen allergy symptoms at first when the injection regimen starts.
  • Since allergy shots rarely cause anaphylaxis, patients must wait in their physicians office for 30 minutes until the danger of anaphylaxis passes.

Changes In Your Health

How Do Allergies Work?

If at any time during the course of your immunotherapy you develop a new medical condition, you become pregnant, or you start a new medication, please tell the nurse. In particular, high blood pressure or heart medications and certain antidepressants cannot be taken with allergy shots. You should not get your allergy shot if you are have a fever, rash, asthma symptoms, or increased allergy symptoms.

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Are There Dangerous Potential Side Effects

It is very rare, but allergy shots can cause a serious allergic reaction and anaphylactic shock. The airways may become very narrow, making breathing difficult, and blood pressure drops. This is why it is important to have allergy shots under a doctors supervision. The staff at the office are equipped to deal with a severe reaction.

An allergy shot may also cause a sore or itchy bump at the site of the injection, which usually is temporary.

What Are The Risks Of Allergy Shots

Overall, allergy shots have a low risk for side effects or adverse reactions. A few people may have a severe allergic reaction, including anaphylaxis, which is why your allergy shot can be administered only by a medical professional. Most women, men, and children experience only mild symptoms or some swelling at the injection site.

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Why Are Allergy Shots Used

An allergy is when the body’s immune system overreacts to a usually harmless substance. Things that cause allergic reactions are called allergens. Common allergens include dust mites, molds, pollen, pets with fur or feathers, stinging insects, and foods.

The body reacts to the allergen by releasing chemicals, one of which is histamine. This release can cause symptoms such as wheezing, trouble breathing, coughing, a stuffy nose, and more. Some allergic reactions can be serious.

The best way to prevent or control allergy symptoms is to avoid allergens. Allergists look for causes of an allergic reaction with skin tests and blood tests. Based on the test results, they can recommend treatments, including medicines and ways to avoid allergens.

If these treatments don’t help, the allergist might recommend allergy shots.

A Side Story: My Experience With Allergy Shots

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Ive had serious allergies since I was very young. When they tested me for the various things I was allergic to, they drew a grid with one square per allergen. Every single square became an inflamed, itchy bump. Well, theres one square that didnt react, I pointed out to the nurse hopefully.

Oh honey, she said. Thats the control.

I started taking shots in my early 20s, but for various reasons I stopped for a few years. I started up again in my mid through late 20s. Even with health insurance, at the time money was tight and the copay took a bite out of our finances.

I never had any kind of systemic reaction from my shots. To be honest, after months and months of never having a reaction, I stopped waiting around the doctors office after the shots were administered. Id often get an itchy bump for a day or so, but thats it. Its also worth noting that, while you need an allergist to test and set up the serum, you can have your regular general practitioner do the weekly or monthly shots. This was great for me since my GP was much closer than my allergist.

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What Are The Benefits Of Allergen Immunotherapy Treatment

Allergen immunotherapy treatment is considered when allergy symptoms are moderate to severe, occur throughout most of the year, do not respond adequately to medications and are triggered by an allergens not easily avoided such as pollens or house dust mite allergens.

For example, if you are extremely allergic to both grass and ragweed pollens, you may experience intolerable symptoms such as sneezing, a runny nose and itchy, red eyes and nose during the spring and fall. It is impossible or at least impractical for you to completely avoid these common, airborne allergens. Although air conditioning will help decrease indoor pollen exposure and medications may be helpful, you may find you still experience symptoms for prolonged periods at those times of the year.

For such patients, an allergen immunotherapy with grass and ragweed allergens will provide significant relief. Some other allergens used for allergen immunotherapy include tree pollens, molds, dust mites, cat and dog allergens and stinging insect venoms.

What Is Sublingual Immunotherapy

SLIT tablets approved by FDA treat grass and ragweed pollens and house dust mites. Each SLIT tablet covers one type of allergen.

Allergy tablets may not be the best option for people with multiple allergies as they only treat one at a time. Allergy shots can treat multiple allergens at once.

Also, if you have severe or uncontrolled asthma, you are not eligible to take the tablet.

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Getting The Most Out Of Treatment

We do have a number of patients who come to our clinic either actively receiving shots from another physician or having been on allergy shots in the past who remain symptomatic. Some have even been on shots for 20-30 years or longer! This is usually explained by the fact that the amount of allergen extract in the shot is insufficient or by the fact that their tests were incorrectly interpreted in the first place and they were never really allergic at all! Patients should ask their shot provider if the contents of their shots and the schedules by which they are administered meet current AAAAI/ACAAI guidelines. Also, patients should be aware of what is actually contained in their allergy shots. The use of generic mixes of allergens is very popular and can be potentially harmful if the patient is not allergic to each component of the mix.Shot providers should be able and willing to discuss the contents of the shot, the amounts of each allergen, the schedule by which the shots will be administered, and how this plan follows the guidelines for allergen immunotherapy.

What Kind Of Allergies Can Be Treated With Allergy Shots

Treating Allergies with Allergy Shots or Immunotherapy at Ohio State

Allergy shots work well for hay fever , eye allergies, bee-sting allergy and some drug allergies. In some people, allergy shots can improve asthma symptoms.

Usually people get allergy shots after they have tried other treatments that haven’t worked. Other treatments include avoiding the things that make you have allergy symptoms and taking medicine, like an antihistamine, to prevent and relieve your allergy symptoms.

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They Contain Allergens So Reactions Can Happen

Allergy shots work by exposing patients to tiny amounts of whatever it is they’re allergic to. The amount of allergen in each injection increases gradually over time so the body can build up a tolerance.

“It changes the person’s immune system from having a bad reaction to pretty much ignoring the allergen,” says Dr. Dziadzio. “For some people, it decreases their allergies enough so they can come off medicine entirely, and for some it helps their medicines be more effective.”

But because allergens are involved, reactions to the shots themselves are possible. These can range from swelling and itching at the injection site to sneezing and a runny nose, to, in rare cases, anaphylactic shock. That’s why it’s recommended that patients stay at their doctor’s office for 30 minutes after each shot so they can be monitored and treated for reactions if they do occur.

How Is Allergen Immunotherapy Administered

An allergist or immunologist schedules the immunotherapy treatment for an allergy patient. Before starting immunotherapy, the immunologist typically takes the following steps:

  • Records a complete history of the patients allergic symptoms.
  • Checks existing medical conditions and medications.
  • Performs a skin prick test that places a small amount of an antigen in the skin to find substances to which the patient is allergic.
  • Prepares a diluted solution of specific antigens that cause the patients allergic symptoms.

Subcutaneous immunotherapy

Subcutaneous immunotherapy is performed in two phases:

  • Buildup phase: Once- or twice-weekly injections for six months to a year, starting with a low dose, gradually increasing until the patient is able to tolerate the maintenance dose. The maintenance dose is calibrated to roughly equal the levels of allergens present in the patients environment.
  • Rush immunotherapy: The buildup phase may be speeded up by a higher dose increase every week for patients who can tolerate it. Though it reduces time required to reach maintenance dose, it also increases the risks of a severe allergic reaction.
  • Maintenance phase: The maintenance dose of injections are usually given once every two or three weeks for three to five years, depending on the patients response to the therapy.
  • The patient remains under observation for about 30 minutes after each allergy shot to check for any severe allergic reactions.

Sublingual immunotherapy

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Who Should Consider Allergy Shots

There are three groups of people who are good candidates for allergy shots, according to Sima Patel, DO, an allergist at New York Allergy and Sinus Center in New York City:

  • People affected year-round, or in two or more seasons
  • People who dont experience relief from other treatments. Ifmedications arent working, that may be an indication for people to start treatment with shots, Dr. Patel explains.
  • People who want permanent relief, for example, if youre allergic to a pet. Allergy medications cant cure the reaction, whereas allergen immunotherapy can.
  • Dr. Patel says that depending on the study you reference, allergy shots can be effective in improving symptoms for up to 85% of patients.

    Who Are The Best Candidates For Allergy Shots

    Allergy shots (immunotherapy): Efficacy, side effects, and ...

    If any of the following applies to you, then you may be a candidate for allergy shots:

    • If the medications to control your symptoms , do not fully work.
    • If medications control your symptoms, but your symptoms flare back up every time you try to reduce your medications, so you are dependent on your medications.
    • If the medication used to control your symptoms produces too many side effects .
    • If you have asthma triggered by allergies .
    • If complications develop.
    • If you cant effectively avoid things that trigger your allergies .
    • If you would rather treat the actual problem rather than just use medications to control symptoms.
    • If you would rather not use medications daily.
    • If the cost of the medications is a burden, allergy shots are very cost effective compared to the use of daily prescription medications over several years.

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    What Medication Is Used For Allergy Shots

    Allergy desensitization shots are made of allergen proteins mixed with preservatives and solvents. This is called an extract. Your doctor will give you the extract that matches your allergy. If youre allergic to cat dander, you will get the cat dander extract, for example.

    Over time, your doctor will slowly increase the amount of allergen in your shots. The gradual buildup changes your immune system and desensitizes it to the allergen. Your body gets used to the allergen, and you become less likely to react to it.

    There are also other forms of desensitization treatment called sublingual immunotherapy. These are drops or tablets of extract that you put under your tongue for 1 to 2 minutes and then swallow.

    How Often Do You Get Allergy Shots

    At first, youâll go to your doctor once or twice a week for several months. Youâll get the shot in your upper arm. It’ll contain a tiny amount of the thing youâre allergic to — pollen, pet dander, mold, dust mites, or bee venom, for example.

    The dose will go up gradually until you get to whatâs called a maintenance dose. After that, youâll usually get a shot every 2-4 weeks for 4-5 months. Then your doctor will gradually increase the time between shots until youâre getting them about once a month for 3-5 years. During that time, your allergy symptoms will get better and may even go away.

    If your symptoms donât improve after a year of shots, talk with your doctor about other treatment options.

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