Should You Try Allergy Shots?

In the past, allergy injections were typically reserved only for people who had tried extensive environmental measures and medication therapy without success. Today, though, many allergists are willing to use allergen immunotherapy right at the start for people with persistent symptoms.

This means that if your allergies are making you miserable, it's certainly worth talking to your doctor sooner, rather than later, to find out if you're a good candidate for shots, explains Karen H. Calhoun, MD, FACS, FAAOA, professor in the Department of Otolaryngology, Head, and Neck Surgery at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

How Allergy Shots Work

Allergen immunotherapy consists of giving regular injections that contain tiny amounts of the substances to which you're allergic, Calhoun says. This can include such things as seasonal allergens, such as ragweed, mold, and pollen, pet dander, bee venom, dust mites, or other common triggers. When your body is exposed to these allergens in small doses, it can help you build up a tolerance and prevent, or at least lessen, your reaction. For example, if contact with ragweed leads to eye and nasal symptoms, after the shots you may be able to be outdoors during ragweed season without having any discomfort.

How Allergy Shots Are Given

Allergy injections are usually given once or twice a week. The injections contain very miniscule amounts of the allergen to help your body adjust and begin to build up a tolerance. Over time, the amount of the allergens will be increased and the time between injections will be lengthened. Eventually you'll get a maintenance dose once a month. The entire process of allergy shots typically takes about three to five years, but you'll usually see some significant improvement within the first 12 months.

Are You a Good Candidate for Allergy Shots?

For many people, the need for allergy medications is decreased or even eliminated following allergy injections. "I think anyone with allergies causing significant symptoms can benefit from allergy shots," Calhoun says. However, she points out that once in a while this approach may not be effective. She says that the general rule of thumb is to try allergy shots for a year before giving up if you don't see any improvement.

Allergy shots are easy for most people to tolerate. But there's always the risk that they can cause a systemic allergic reaction, since you're introducing something into your body that triggers your immune system. This makes it important that the process be performed and monitored in your doctor's office so any reactions can be treated at the very earliest sign and any serious complications can be prevented.

To learn more about allergy injections, you can visit the websites of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, the American Academy of Otolaryngic Allergy, and the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Karen Calhoun, MD, reviewed this article.



Karen H. Calhoun, MD, FACS, FAAOA, professor in the Department of Otolaryngology, Head, and Neck Surgery at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Email interview Oct. 10, 2013.

The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Division of Sinus & Allergy: Department of Otolargyngoloty - Head & Neck Surgery.