Do Allergy Shots Work? Effectiveness, Side Effects, and Alternatives
Managing allergy symptoms can be challenging. There are many different allergy medications that people take to keep their symptoms under control. Depending on the specifics and severity of your allergy symptoms, you may find yourself wanting to increase your dosage as time goes by.
Many allergy sufferers say they notice their medications losing effect after a while. One solution is allergen immunotherapy, either through allergy shots or sublingual immunotherapy.
If you are wondering if allergy shots are right for you, you are not alone. Allergy injections are a common treatment method, but are they worth it? Let's look at how the treatments work, how effective they are, and discuss some pros and cons of choosing this solution.
What Are Allergy Shots?
An allergy shot is an injection that can be used to combat seasonal allergies, hay fever, allergic asthma, allergies to pollen, mold, dust mites, and pet dander. It uses allergy immunotherapy to fight against symptoms naturally, helping to reduce the need for medication over time.
How Do They Work?
Immunotherapy works by introducing trace amounts of allergens into the body so the immune system can learn to fight them over time. Because treatments only expose you to tiny doses of your triggers, they should not cause significant reactions but encourage the body to learn to fight them.
By introducing controlled doses of allergen triggers into a person's system, the allergy shots help build a natural defense- ultimately reducing the severity of reactions with time. Allergy shots are administered in two phases.
Build-Up Phase (Strengthening Phase)
The first phase (the build-up phase) is the most intense, with shots once or twice a week. It goes on for three to six months during which the allergy shot components gradually stimulate and encourage your immune system.
Building up the immunotherapy shots is vital for long-term success. Because the dosage slowly increases with each treatment it gently allows your system to strengthen ultimately leading to longer-lasting results.
Maintenance Phase (Lock-In Phase)
After build-up comes the maintenance phase. This period typically lasts a few years and consists of doctor visits for your maintenance dose once or twice a month. This is the part that boosts your system for long-term effectiveness.
Your healthcare provider will determine when you have reached your effective therapeutic dose level and begin the transition from the build-up to the maintenance phase. Everyone is different, and your allergist will decide on the best plan.
This phase is all about keeping your system alert and upholding the strength it has built so far. Without it, some people may revert to their previous allergy levels. With time, these maintenance doses can reduce in frequency.
How Effective are Allergy Shots?
Immunotherapy can lead to a noticeable improvement in allergy symptoms. When taken correctly and in line with professional medical advice, this treatment can lead to patient satisfaction and improved quality of life. Some of the potential benefits include:
- Targets root causes: Immunotherapy injections target the root of the problem allowing your body to begin healing your allergies rather than simply masking symptoms.
- Multi-symptom relief: Allergy shots treat many symptoms including eczema and asthma.
- Overall wellness: Researchers have found that allergy shots result not only in improved physical health but also mental health among allergy patients.
- High success rate: Around 85% of people said they noticed a significant improvement over time.
The Impact on Mental Health
Allergies can negatively impact a person's mental health and emotional well-being. Since immunotherapy aims to reduce and ultimately remove reactions and symptoms, it has the power to improve mental health.
Improvement in Skin Conditions and Breathing
Eczema is a common side effect of allergens. Skin can get irritated and flare up, leading to uncomfortable skin rashes and exasperated eczema. When they start to work, allergy shots can minimize these irritations and reduce their effects.
Difficulty when breathing is another side effect of allergies and especially affects asthma patients. Allergy injections can help reduce asthma flares and eventually decrease the need for medication.
Long-Term Relief from Allergies
If dust mites, environmental allergies, animal dander, or another allergic trigger has been interrupting your daily routine, you might be able to find long-term relief through allergy shots.
Though this is an extensive treatment process the results could mean that you would be able to enjoy the outdoors or time with pets without sneezing, itching, or fighting against a runny nose.
What Are the Risks and Downsides?
Though allergy shots are a good option for some people they do not work for all allergy types and may trigger symptoms such as asthma. Before deciding if allergy shots are worth it, you must consider the possible drawbacks. These can include:
The Time Commitment
Allergy shots are not a fast solution. Real effects can take years to show up, during which time you have to take many injections.
Some people may see this as worth it for the eventual reward, but for others, it is simply not manageable. The time commitment is something you need to think about before deciding to try this treatment.
In addition to allergy shots taking a long time before being fully effective, they also require frequent long trips to the doctor’s office. After each injection, you must wait at the doctor’s office for 30 minutes to be monitored for severe allergic reactions.
Finding an allergist can also take a while depending on the availability of providers in your area.
Cost of Treatments
With all those doctor visits and the many injections required, the price of allergy shots can quickly add up. Without insurance, the recurring costs can make allergy shots less accessible or worthwhile. The cost of travel and time off work for the appointments can also increase how much treatment costs.
The most important thing to consider is the possibility of side effects. Since allergy shots contain allergens, there is a chance they could cause an allergic reaction.
People can experience swelling, redness, irritation, or itching around the injection site (usually the upper arm). Allergy shots can also cause other allergy symptoms, such as fatigue. Frequent shots and needles can also be an uncomfortable experience.
In rare cases, people experience chronic hives, throat swelling, or another severe reaction. Your doctor is likely to keep you in the office for at least half an hour after treatment to monitor your response.
How Long Do they Take to Work?
Most patients need to wait at least a year before they feel a difference. Although some people have reported reduced symptoms during the build-up phase, most require three to five years of ongoing treatment before their immune system can fight the allergens alone.
The injections may provide faster relief for seasonal allergies and hay fever symptoms such as nasal congestion, and watery eyes but long-term treatment is required for lasting effectiveness.
Advice for Anyone Taking Allergy Shots
Allergy shots are an effective long-term treatment option. However, the process requires patience and dedication to your treatment plan.
Taking antihistamines can help with local reactions or minor irritations caused by the shots during the build-up phase. It is best to take them before your appointment to give the medicine time to settle in.
At any time during treatment, report any new or increased symptoms to your healthcare provider.
Best Alternatives to Allergy Shots
Shots are not for everyone. Whether you hate needles or are concerned about the time, price, or possibility of side effects, you may prefer to pursue other treatments.
Sublingual immunotherapy is a popular alternative method for long-term allergy relief which is just as effective as allergy shots. Sublingual immunotherapy works the same way as allergy shots, by exposing your immune system to small doses of your allergy triggers. Through this exposure, your body becomes desensitized to your allergies, providing long-term relief. Instead of injections, sublingual immunotherapy is taken under the tongue through allergy drops or tablets.
Sublingual immunotherapy carries a lower risk of severe reactions than allergy shots. The treatment can also be self-administered in the comfort of your home, making them a convenient and effective option for treating your allergies.
Take Our Allergy Assessment
If your allergies are interfering with your quality of life, it is worth considering immunotherapy. Take our quick online assessment to get started on your journey and see if sublingual immunotherapy could be an option for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do allergy shots work for food allergies?
Though allergy shots have a wide range of uses and help manage many reactions, unfortunately, allergy shots are not much help in treating food allergies. In the case of food allergies, speak to a healthcare professional about alternative treatment options.
Can anyone get allergy shots?
Most people are eligible for allergy shots, but there are some exceptions. Children under five cannot have the treatment. Patients with severe asthma and anyone taking beta-blocker medications is also generally advised against it as it can worsen asthma symptoms or cause a severe reaction.
Pregnant women who have not already started taking the shots before the pregnancy began cannot take allergy shots either. Someone who becomes pregnant during the maintenance phase of their immunotherapy can continue with the same doses with the permission of an allergy specialist and a doctor, but they cannot start new treatment or increase their dosage.
Will my insurance cover allergy shots?
Allergy shots may or may not be covered by insurance. Whether or not your treatment is covered will depend on your provider, your plan, and which treatment facility you visit. Because of this, you should always check with your provider before starting treatment.