Young boy with hay fever
Personal Health

What Are Allergy Shots and Are They Right for You?

From the nuisance of hay fever to a life-threatening sensitivity to bee stings or peanuts, your life can be dramatically altered by an allergy. Yet, whether it's you or your child, you can find hope in understanding allergy shots and how they can reduce your sensitivity to allergens.

What Are Allergy Shots?

Allergy shots, sometimes referred to as specific immunotherapy, can bring relief to adults and children who suffer from a single, specific allergy, according to the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The intention of this therapy is to desensitize a person to the particular allergen that affects them.

The "buildup" phase involves a series of injections, containing the substance that triggers your allergy. You start with one or two allergy shots a week, administered in your allergist's office. Gradually, the quantity of the allergen is increased, enabling the body's immune system to adjust and decrease sensitivity to the allergy-inducing source. In four to six months, you may begin feeling relief from your symptoms and get placed on a maintenance dose. Your specialist may lengthen the time between shots so you only need injections every two to four weeks.

A redness, itching, or swelling near the injection site is not unusual and is usually nothing to worry about. A rare and serious side effect is a systemic reaction, which can start with hives and potentially lead to more serious symptoms throughout the body. Systemic reactions should be treated immediately, which is one reason all allergy shots should be administered in a physician's office.

Post-Treatment Expectations

Improvement in symptoms should be apparent after one year of maintenance. For about 85 percent of patients, the shots can be suspended after three to five years. It's wise to continue scheduling annual allergist visits so he or she can check for adverse reactions and determine whether further treatments are needed.

Candidates for Treatment

Adults and children achieve relief from allergen immunotherapy, with a few exceptions. Generally, allergy shots are not recommended for children under five because they may have trouble describing their symptoms or lack the discipline to maintain the regime of shots. If you miss one or two shots, your physician cannot increase your dose, which lengthens your buildup phase of treatment. Adults with certain medical conditions, such as heart disease, have a greater risk of serious side effects and might be discouraged from the treatment.

You should consider allergy shots for the following:

  • The presence of hay fever or eye allergies
  • An allergic reaction to a common food substance, such as peanut butter
  • A life-threatening reaction to insect stings
  • The inability to avoid your allergens
  • The failure of medications to control allergy symptoms
  • The cost of long-term immunotherapy is less than long-term use of antihistamines

So, what are allergy shots? They are a treatment to help reduce your susceptibility to disruptive allergies you face on a regular basis. Don't let a simple allergy keep you from enjoying life. Make an appointment or ask your primary care physician for a referral to see an allergy specialist, where you can discuss allergy shots or other possible treatments to help you get the most out of life.

Posted in Personal Health

Randy Gerber writes on health topics for print and online blogs in an effort to help people enhance their quality of life and improve the patient experience. Randy has worked on and written about national, local, and personal health care issues for 25 years. Also, he's married to an OB/GYN, which leads to lively dinner conversations.

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*This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute health care advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or physician before making health care decisions.