Allergies can strike year-round, disrupting your health and quality of life. Seasonal allergies, indoor allergies, and insect sting allergies can cause itchy skin, watery eyes, sinus congestion, and many more symptoms. And allergies can be more than just uncomfortable—in some cases, they can be life-threatening.
Allergy shots, also called subcutaneous immunotherapy, are typically given over a period of 3-5 years to reduce your body’s sensitivity to the offending allergen. Instead of treating the symptoms like over-the-counter drugs, the shots work to reduce or even eliminate your allergic reactions over time. They’re a great choice if you struggle with allergies that don’t respond well to treatments like antihistamines, if you can’t avoid the allergen, or if you experience negative or dangerous anti-allergy drug interactions. However, it’s important to note that allergy shots are not effective for food allergies.
If you suffer from an allergy and want to rid your life of its annoying symptoms, speak with our compassionate allergy specialists in Atlanta today by calling (770) 674-6311 or contact Dr. Gail Ravello online today.
What symptoms do allergy shots relieve?
Allergy symptoms vary from person to person and from season to season. Some of the most common respiratory allergens are:
- dust mites: tiny insects that feed on dead flakes of human skin, typically found in mattresses, carpet, soft furniture, beds, and pillows; a chemical found in their excrement causes the reaction
- pollen and spores: pollen produced by grasses and trees can cause allergic reactions; grasses pollinate at the end of spring and during summer, while most trees pollinate during springtime; allergic reactions can also be triggered when mold and fungus releases spores
- animals: chemicals in pets’ and other animals’ urine, saliva, and dead skin flakes (dander) are among the most common allergens; dogs and cats are the most common causes of reactions, though many people are also allergic to rodents, horses, and cattle
- work-related: allergic people who work around dust from wood, metal, or in areas containing mold and fungus, or toxic construction glues and plastics may be at risk
Although eczema and atopic dermatitis have been shown to be gut biome based, contact dermatitis causes itchy, red, blistered skin upon contact with an allergen like laundry detergent, soap, certain metals, glues, plants, or latex. Allergic reaction is also one of the causes of hives which causes red bumps to break out on the skin.
Respiratory symptoms (also called allergic rhinitis) are stimulated when allergens are inhaled or have contact with eyes. These symptoms include:
- sinus congestion or runny nose: can be caused by untreated allergies or by cold and flu
- coughing, sneezing, and wheezing: typical of allergies, they may also be caused by asthma or respiratory infections
- red, watery, itchy, or dry eyes: very common symptoms of an allergic response, but can be caused by environmental factors like dust, smoke, dry air, or fatigue
- chronic headaches, fatigue, or irritability: can be caused by a wide variety of health conditions, including allergies
- hay fever: despite the name hay fever typical allergies do not cause fevers
- anaphylaxis a severe and potentially fatal allergic reaction that causes skin itching, swelling, weak and rapid pulse, low blood pressure, vomiting, and dizziness; if you experience these symptoms, call 911 or get emergency medical attention right away, as anaphylaxis can be fatal if left untreated
Why try allergy shots?
As with any medical procedure, results of allergy shots will vary from patient to patient depending on age, genetics, general health, condition severity, follow-up care, and environmental factors. Consult your healthcare provider before embarking on your treatment journey.
Allergy shots are a form of immunotherapy which have successfully treated allergies for well over 100 years. Each shot contains a small amount of the allergen your body reacts to, so it stimulates your body’s immune response slightly—just enough to desensitize your body over time without causing a full-blown allergic response. These shots are effective for seasonal, indoor, and insect allergies, but are not effective for food allergies or intolerances.
In most cases, medical providers will recommend allergy shot treatment because these treatment methods haven’t given you relief.
Over-the-counter antihistamines can provide relief o symptoms but do not address the root cause. Long term use also produces undesirable side effects like drowsiness, eye dryness, nausea and vomiting, restlessness or moodiness (in some children), trouble urinating, blurred vision and confusion.
The antihistamine Diphenhydramine (e.g., Benadryl®) blocks the actions of acetylcholine - a neurotransmitter that controls learning and memory. Studies of this drug class found that increased use is associated with an up to 54% increased risk of dementia.
Removing mold, making lifestyle changes, or reducing environmental exposure helps most patients, but in some cases, a patient’s occupation or living space may not permit complete removal of environmental factors.
Although the efficacy of acupuncture has been demonstrated in studies across the world, some patients may not live near a certified acupuncturist or may not have the time for the longer treatment sessions it requires.
How allergy shots are delivered
First, your provider will recommend an allergen test. This typically involves placing a small amount of various substances on your skin to determine whether that particular substance is causing your allergy symptoms.
Depending on your symptoms, unique situation, and medical history, your test may include as few as 25 test substances or as many as 300. Your provider will discuss the specifics in greater detail before you undergo any testing. If you show no allergic response, your symptoms may be caused by a different medical condition.
Once the allergen or allergens have been identified, you’ll start receiving regular injections of that allergen. Because these small amounts of allergen stimulate your immune system’s response, your body will slowly build up tolerance to it and reduce your symptom severity.
You’ll start by getting the injections once or twice a week for about six months. Then you’ll move to a maintenance treatment of one shot per month year-round. This typically continues for 3-5 years.
By the time your treatment course is complete, your body should be adjusted to the offending substance, and you should be permanently rescued from your allergic response. A recent clinical study demonstrated substantial reduction in patient allergic rhinitis after just one season of allergy shots.1
Unlike over-the-counter or prescription medications, allergy shots are intended to eliminate the root cause of your allergy permanently, and they work best when you follow the full treatment plan. Attending all appointments and following your provider’s instructions are crucial for your treatment’s success.
Am I an allergy shot candidate?
Most people suffering from allergies can get allergy shot treatments, but some conditions and life stages may make you a less than excellent candidate. These can include:
- pregnancy or nursing
- a heart condition, or taking beta blocking medication for a heart condition
- severe asthma
- being a child younger than 5 years
- trypanophobia (extreme fear of needles)
Discussing your current symptoms, all medications you’re taking, and your medical history with your medical provider will help you get the safest, most effective treatment.
Do allergy shots cause any side effects?
In most cases, allergy shots are very safe and cause mild or no side effects. You may have a slight reaction at the start of your treatment because your body needs time to adjust to the injected allergen. You may experience mild immune system responses similar to your allergy symptoms, such as itchy skin, sinus congestion or runny nose, sneezing, coughing, fatigue, or other common allergy signs. These should resolve on their own in a short time, once your body starts desensitizing to the responsible allergen.
In extremely rare cases, anaphylaxis can occur from allergy injections. If you experience hives, extreme itching, flushed or pale skin, dizziness, low blood pressure, difficulty breathing or swallowing, weak or rapid pulse, nausea, vomiting, don’t wait—call 911 or get emergency medical care right away. Left untreated, anaphylactic shock can be fatal.
Typically, your provider will advise you to remain in the office for a short time after receiving your injections to ensure you aren’t experiencing any side effects.
Reserve Your Appointment
Whether seasonal or ongoing, allergies can make a huge impact on your happiness, health, and quality of life. Their symptoms are exasperating, painful, and distressing, and they can negatively affect your ability to do the things you want and need to do.
You don’t have to live with the aggravation and grief allergies cause. Our specialists have the skill, experience, and tools to diagnose and treat your allergies, so you can get back to enjoying the fun and freedom of an allergy-free lifestyle.
- Larsen, Jørgen Nedergaard, et al. “Allergy Immunotherapy: the Future of Allergy Treatment.” Drug Discovery Today, vol. 21, no. 1, 2016, pp. 26–37., doi: 10.1016/j.drudis.2015.07.010.
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