What are Allergy Shots?
Allergy shots are also known as allergen immunotherapy. This is a treatment used by doctors to treat symptoms related to allergies in patients. It is a long-form treatment that may continue for three to five years to treat your allergy attacks. It is used to treat symptoms in people with asthma, allergic rhinitis, conjunctivitis, or stinging insect allergy.
These shots are injections that consist of a tiny amount of an allergen (the substance you are allergic to or triggers a reaction) like dust, pollen, mold, insect venom, etc. These allergens are present in very small quantities to stimulate your immune system but not trigger a full-blown allergic reaction. However, Food allergies cannot be treated with allergy shots.
Over time, the constant stimulation will make your body tolerant to these allergens and gradually reduce your symptoms.
What happens when you undergo this procedure?
It is a simple and cost-effective procedure performed by an immunologist. The entire procedure is broken down into two steps. They are:
The doctor will first begin by testing for allergies. Allergy testing involves your doctor making a small prick on your arm with various allergens to find the one that causes a reaction.
Once the doctor has found the allergen, he will start giving you allergy shots. There are two phases in this process – the buildup phase and the maintenance phase.
Buildup phase: It is the most crucial phase and requires time and commitment. It lasts for up to six months. You may receive an allergy shot once a week during the first few weeks that may later be reduced to one shot every two weeks. This phase helps your body adjust to the allergens and develop tolerance towards them.
In a few cases, the buildup phase may be completed more quickly by administering a higher number of shots to the patient during each visit. This is done to relieve your symptoms immediately and reduce the amount of time required by your body to reach the maintenance phase. However, it is risky and may cause you to develop a severe reaction.
Maintenance phase: After the buildup phase, your doctor will check whether your body has grown accustomed to the allergens. He will do so based on your body’s reaction to the shots. Once he feels that your body has adjusted, you will enter the maintenance phase. In this phase, you will be administered the allergy shots once or twice a month. This phase generally lasts for three to five years. Your doctor will advise you not to skip a single shot during this time as it may disrupt the treatment course.
Your doctor will ask you to stay at the hospital or the clinic for about 30 minutes after administering the shot. This is to monitor if you are having an allergic reaction.
Who are the suitable candidates for this procedure?
Most people who experience severe allergies at the slightest exposure to an allergen may qualify for this procedure. You might need to visit your doctor regularly to receive the shots for a long period. People with the following allergies generally get the shots:
- Allergic asthma
- Conjunctivitis or recurrent eye allergies
- Allergic rhinitis
- Allergies due to insects like stinging bees
- Seasonal allergies caused due to pollen or mold
However, this particular procedure is not suitable for children below 5 as they may be unable to verbally report any side effects they experience. If you suffer from any of the above allergies, you should visit your doctor for treatment.
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Why are allergy shots given to people?
This procedure is generally conducted to provide relief to people suffering from various allergies. It is an easy procedure to administer, and many people opt for it if they are extremely sensitive to a particular allergen. They may also choose shots if they do not wish to continue taking long-term medication.
What are the benefits of receiving allergy shots?
Allergy shots have shown the following benefits in people:
- Significant decrease in the symptoms from an allergic reaction
- Long-lasting relief from allergies
- Preventing the progression of allergies like allergic rhinitis to asthma in children
What are some of the risks or side effects of this procedure?
Most people experience redness and itching after receiving the shot. However, other side effects a person may experience are:
- Normal reactions: These are the most common side effects you may experience after receiving an allergy shot. It includes reactions on the skin that look like hives or rashes around the site of injection. The skin may swell or become red. A large bump may also appear at the site of injection. These reactions mostly subside on their own after a few hours.
- Systemic reactions: Some people may also experience reactions similar to their allergies after receiving the injection. Systemic reactions include nasal congestion, sneezing, chronic hives, or conjunctivitis. Taking an antihistamine may help relieve these symptoms.
- Anaphylaxis: This is a rare but more serious and potentially life-threatening reaction to allergy shots. Anaphylaxis begins within 30 minutes of receiving the injection and causes dizziness or breathing difficulties. Your blood pressure may also drop, and your doctor may monitor your health closely after the shot.
Allergy shots are the best way to treat severe allergies. However, it may take up to three to five years of maintenance shots to eliminate them. While visiting your doctor, mention your complete medical history and do not take a shot if you are sick or have a respiratory illness. Most people see significant differences in their allergies in a year, but if you don’t see any improvement, consult your doctor for alternative treatments.
Frequently Asked Question (FAQs)
- Can allergy shots help kids?
Yes, allergy shots can be administered to children and may help reduce their allergies. It may also help kids from developing other allergies or asthma as they get older. However, kids below the age of five do not qualify for these shots.
- Can allergy shots treat food or latex allergies?
No. Allergy shots may not be able to treat food or latex allergies. The only way to reduce the symptoms is by avoiding the food item or latex that causes it.
- How long do I need to take the allergy shots?
The duration varies from person to person, depending on the severity of the allergy. However, most people are completely cured of their allergies in three to five years.
- How long do they take to work?
It is different for different people. For some people they can see an improvement in few months and for others it may take up to 1 year to see significant improvement.