People suffering from allergies often find long-term relief from symptoms with allergy immunotherapy.
Allergy immunotherapy – commonly referred to as allergy shots – involves repeated injections of specific allergens to build up protection against symptoms and reactions associated with the natural exposure to those allergens, according to Dr. Robert Kocur of OSF HealthCare Medical Group – Allergy & Immunology in Bloomington.
“During the initial phase of immunotherapy, which is referred to as the buildup, shots are given weekly,” Dr. Kocur said. “After reaching the second phase, the injection frequency can be lengthened to every four weeks.”
In addition to improving asthma and allergic rhinitis – hay fever – allergy shots can be an effective treatment for people who suffer from stinging insect allergies.
Allergy shots, also called desensitization or hyposensitization, use a mixture of the allergens – whether it be pollen, mold spores, animal dander, etc. The mixture, called an allergy extract, acts similar to a vaccine. It contains no medicine, but increased doses of the allergy extract teaches a person’s natural immune system to respond differently to allergens in the environment.
For people with asthma and hay fever, allergy shots can reduce the severity of symptoms and the use of medications to control them. Immunotherapy also has been shown to reduce the development of other airborne allergies and reduce the risk of asthma in children, Dr. Kocur said.
About 80 to 90 percent of people improve with allergy immunotherapy. There are two methods that can be used during the buildup period leading to maintenance. The traditional one shot-a-week method that takes about eight to 10 months to see a benefit or an accelerated form where someone could see a benefit within two months. Because it takes time for allergy immunotherapy to be effective, people should continue to take medicines prescribed by their doctor and to keep allergens out of their environment.
There are two types of reactions to allergy shots – local and systemic, according to Dr. Kocur.
Local reactions occur at the site of the injection and include swelling, burning or itching. If this occurs repeatedly, the doctor may change the extract strength or frequency of the shots.
Systemic reactions, while rare are possible and can include hives, coughing/wheezing and even anaphylaxis. These type of reactions typically do not occur at the injection site. These rare reactions can be serious and life threatening. If these occur, the dosage of the allergy shots is lowered.
If you have any questions about immunotherapy, see your health care provider or allergist.