What are allergy shots?
Basically allergy shots, also referred to as allergy injections or allergy immunotherapy (IT), are a series of injections to control allergy symptoms. Allergy shots are not a medication. They are a vaccine. Receiving allergy shots desensitizes allergy patients to their specific allergens and is the only way to "turn off" the immune system's allergic reactions. During IT, the patient will gradually develop a stronger tolerance of his or her allergens. With allergy shots, your allergy symptoms can be decreased, minimized or even eliminated.
Who should consider receiving allergy shots?
You should consider allergy shots if complete avoidance of your allergens is impossible or if you:
How do allergy shots work?
Allergy shots work like a vaccine. Whereas a vaccine contains traces of a specific disease or bacteria, allergy shots contain traces of your specific allergens -- the very things that trigger an allergic reaction. By gradually increasing the doses of your allergen, your body develops an immunity and/or tolerance to that allergen. In essence, allergy shots turn off an inappropriate immune response -- your allergic reaction to a plant, tree, pet or mold -- while still allowing your immune system to respond normally to infectious agents, especially viruses.
Allergy shots occur in two phases:
Build-up phase: involves a routine of injections with increasing amounts of allergens. The frequency of injections generally ranges from one to three times a week with an average duration of three to six months.
Maintenance phase: begins when the effective therapeutic dose is achieved. Once this maintenance dose is reached, the time between treatments will increase, ranging from every one to four weeks.
You may begin to see the benefits of allergy shots during the build-up phase, but it may take as long as 12 months on the maintenance dose to start seeing significant results. On average, maintenance therapy is continued for three to five years.
What is my treatment commitment?
You must be willing to commit to a regular schedule of immunotherapy treatments, with the main commitment period occurring the first 18 months. Although some people may consider this level of dedication as an inconvenience, a three- to five-year commitment to allergy shots is minimal when compared to a lifetime of taking over-the-counter drugs or prescription medications.
Also, you must be able to receive allergy shots by a healthcare provider at a facility with proper staff and equipment so that any potential adverse reactions can be identified and treated. It is recommended that you remain in the office 20 to 30 minutes after receiving your allergy shots to ensure that the injected allergen does not cause any adverse reactions.