Allergy shots (subcutaneous immunotherapy) are the most common form of immunotherapy.
They can be used as a long-term treatment for seasonal, indoor, and insect sting allergies and are recommended for anyone whose symptoms are not well controlled through medications or those who want to reduce their long-term use of medications. They do not work for food or drug allergies.
Allergy shots work by getting your body used to the allergen slowly, in the hope that you will develop an immunity or tolerance to the allergen.
Once the allergen trigger has been identified, an extract of that substance is prepared. The process takes place in two phases, the build-up phase and the maintenance phase. The build-up phase involves a small amount of the allergen being injected into the upper arm once or twice a week for a few months. The dosage is gradually increased at each visit. The length of the build-up phase depends entirely on your body’s reaction. Once you have reached the effective dose, typically the most you can handle without showing symptoms, the maintenance phase will begin. The dosage is no longer increased at each visit and the number of shots is decreased. The maintenance phase involves an allergy shot once every month for three to five years, so treatment is a long-term commitment.
Allergy symptoms will not improve overnight; symptoms will typically improve over the first year of treatment and continue to improve over the next few years. The shots may even decrease symptoms for other allergens and prevent new allergies from developing.
Are Allergy Shots Safe?
Allergy shots are considered a safe and effective long-term treatment for a number of allergies. They are most effective for those allergic to pollen, mold, dust mites, animal dander, and insect venom. They do not work for food or drug allergies.
Side effects and complications are rare. Those receiving allergy shots might notice a little redness, swelling, and tenderness at the injection site. Maintaining a consistent injection schedule helps to reduce the odds of serious reactions.
Allergy symptoms can often be relieved through the use of over-the-counter or prescription medications and nasal sprays.
Allergy Drops (sublingual immunotherapy) an easy and convenient alternative to shots.
Allergy drops work the same way as shots. By administering a little bit of the allergen your reaction gradually gets better. Like shots, allergy drops can be used as an effective long-term treatment for allergies. They are more convenient than shots because they can be taken at home and they are pain-free. No more painful shots and no more weekly trips to the doctor’s office. They are also easier and more convenient for kids.
Again, like shots, symptoms will not improve overnight, but with dedicated treatment, your allergies will improve over a few years.
Medical therapy provides short-term relief and may be enough of a solution for people with seasonal allergies or those whose symptoms are not severe.
If your symptoms do not improve with the use of medications, you should consult with an allergist over alternative treatments such as immunotherapy.
Antihistamines are often the go-to drug for treating allergy symptoms. They work by reducing or blocking histamines, chemicals produced by the immune system that are responsible for many common allergy symptoms including runny nose, stuffy nose, and itchy, watery eyes. They are available in tablets, capsules, liquids, nasal sprays, and eye drops. Antihistamines can cause side effects such as drowsiness, dry mouth, dizziness, and nausea, though newer generation antihistamines have fewer side effects.
Popular antihistamines include:
When your allergy symptoms include a stuffed-up nose, you’re better off using a decongestant for relief. Decongestants shrink swollen blood vessels and tissues that line the nose. They can be found in pills, liquids, nasal sprays, and nose drops and are available over-the-counter or by prescription. Decongestants may increase anxiety or cause sleeping difficulty. If you have a medical condition such as glaucoma, high blood pressure, heart disease, thyroid disorder, diabetes, or enlarged prostate, consult with a doctor before using.
Common decongestants include:
In addition, many antihistamines also contain a decongestant, such as:
Nasal corticosteroids are nasal sprays that help to reduce inflammation of the nasal lining associated with allergies. They can be extremely effective at relieving symptoms but may cause nosebleeds, nasal dryness, and sore throat. Nasal corticosteroids are generally safe to use long-term. They are usually available by prescription only.
Common brands include:
Decongestant nasal sprays are generally available over-the-counter. They provide short-term relief from nasal allergy symptoms but wear off quickly. Overuse can lead to a “rebound effect” in which symptoms worsen. Patients are advised not to use decongestant nasal sprays for longer than three days.
Popular brands include:
- Vicks Sinex
Allergy eye drops help relieve the symptoms of eye allergies. If you are experiencing itchy or watery eyes, a burning sensation in the eyes, redness, and swelling, you can benefit from either over-the-counter or prescription eye drops. They are available in several different types including antihistamines, anti-inflammatory, decongestants, and mast cell stabilizers.
Some of the more common brands include:
- Clear Eyes
- Claritin Eye
Mast cell inhibitors are medications that prevent allergy symptoms such as runny nose or itchy, watery eyes from occurring. They work by inhibiting the release of histamines the immune system produces in response to allergens such as pollen. They are available in the form of nasal sprays and eye drops, and must be taken a week or two before the start of allergy season, and continued daily for the duration of the season.