Allergen immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots, is a form of treatment that decreases symptoms for many people with allergies. Allergy shots decrease sensitivity to allergens and often leads to lasting relief of allergy symptoms. This makes it a cost-effective, beneficial treatment approach for many people.
Who Can Benefit From Allergy Shots?
You and your allergist should base your decision regarding allergy shots on:
- Length of allergy season and severity of your symptoms
- How well medications and/or environmental controls are helping your allergy symptoms
- Your desire to avoid long-term medication use
- Time available for treatment (allergy shots requires a significant commitment)
How Do Allergy Shots Work?
Allergy shots work like a vaccine. Your body responds to injected amounts of a particular allergen, given in gradually increasing doses, by developing immunity or tolerance to the allergen.
There are two phases:
- Build-up phase. This involves receiving injections with increasing amounts of the allergens once a week. The length of this phase depends upon how often the injections are received, but usually lasts 12 to 15 months.
- Maintenance phase. This begins once the effective dose is reached. The effective maintenance dose depends on your level of allergen sensitivity and your response to the build-up phase. During the maintenance phase, there will be longer periods of time between treatments, ranging from two to four weeks. Your allergist will decide what range is best for you.
You may notice a decrease in symptoms during the build-up phase, but it may take as long as 12 months on the maintenance dose to notice an improvement. If allergy shots are successful, maintenance treatment is generally continued for three to five years. Any decision to stop allergy shots should be discussed with your allergist / immunologist.
How Effective Are Allergy Shots?
Allergy shots have a long track record of success and will decrease symptoms of many allergies. It can prevent the development of new allergies, and in children it can prevent the progression of allergic disease from allergic rhinitis to asthma.
The effectiveness of allergy shots appears to be related to the length of the treatment program as well as the dose of the allergen. Some people experience lasting relief from allergy symptoms, while others may relapse after discontinuing allergy shots.
(adapted from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology)