Allergen immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots, is a form of long-term treatment that decreases symptoms for many people with allergic rhinitis, allergic asthma, conjunctivitis (eye allergy) or stinging insect allergy. Allergy shots decrease sensitivity to allergens and often lead to lasting relief of allergy symptoms even after treatment is stopped. This makes it a cost-effective, beneficial treatment approach for many people.
Allergy shots are the most natural way to treat allergic conditions. The injections only contain the purified allergens mixed with saline. By injecting gradually increasing doses of the allergen, the immune system develops tolerance and no longer exhibits an allergic reaction. Over time the patient can be cured of their allergy. There are two phases:
For the first year, shots are administered once weekly in our office. Once the maintenance dose is achieved, this is spaced out to monthly. Some clinics allow patients to administer allergy shots at home. Based on published guidelines set forth by our international allergy societies, we feel that this practice is unsafe due to the potential for allergic reaction due to allergy shots (which is low, but present).
If any of the following applies to you, then you may be a candidate for allergy shots:
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 (unfortunately) 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.
Our board-certified allergist received years of extensive training in formulating allergen immunotherapy shots, which is necessary to provide safe, but effective treatment of allergies. Knowledge of which allergens can be safely mixed together, which allergens cross react, and the appropriate doses of each allergen extracts to meet efficacy guidelines is paramount in ensuring that the 4-5 years you spend completing a course of allergen immunotherapy is worthwhile. Many different types of providers are now offering allergy shots and it is important to make sure that the provider you trust with this process has the knowledge and training necessary to allow you to get the maximum benefit from your allergy shots, while doing so in the safest manner possible.
Sublingual Immunotherapy is often referred to as allergy drops. The antigens used in allergy drops are the same ones that are used in allergy shots. They are just taken orally versus having them injected into the arm. Research has shown allergy drops to be less effective than allergy shots in the treatment of allergies and drops pose some additional challenges to patients who are allergic to multiple items. Currently, allergy drops are not approved by the FDA, though their usage is fairly common and completely legal. The lack of FDA approval does mean that insurance will not cover allergy drops and patients will be responsible for the cost. Even so, for some patients, allergy drops will still make sense and may be reasonable from a cost standpoint. We are glad to discuss the pros and cons of allergy drops vs shots so you can make an informed decision.
Advanced Allergy & Asthma offers a variety of treatment options for our patients, including allergy medications and allergy shots. We recommend you schedule an appointment with our allergist to find out what you’re allergic to and to review which treatment option makes the most sense for you.