Over 50 million Americans suffer from allergies. While many find temporary relief from over-the-counter medications like antihistamines and nasal sprays, some people experience more severe symptoms that don’t respond to these medications and require a different treatment, immunotherapy.
Immunotherapy is a clinically-proven solution for long-lasting relief of allergies. Unlike antihistamines and anti-inflammatories, immunotherapy does more than mask allergy symptoms, it addresses the root cause of allergies—overactive immune systems.
Allergy immunotherapy works by exposing the immune system to trace amounts of allergens. These doses are so small that they don’t cause an immune response. Over time, the body becomes desensitized to the allergen, and allergy symptoms begin to lessen and, eventually, disappear.
What Are Allergy Shots?
Allergy shots are a form of immunotherapy called subcutaneous immunotherapy (SCIT). Allergy physicians and nurses administer this medication beneath the skin through an injection in the upper arm. Allergy shots consist of a serum that contains the allergens that cause your immune system to react. As time goes on, the amount of allergens in the serum increases as your immunity develops.
This treatment addresses a variety of environmental allergens, including pollen, dust mites, pet dander, mold, and more. Allergy immunotherapy can also reduce the symptoms of allergic rhinitis and the frequency and severity of asthma flare-ups.
Patients receive these shots in an allergist’s office due to the risk of anaphylaxis, a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction. After a patient gets their injection, they must stay in the physician’s waiting room for 30 minutes to ensure they don’t react. Anaphylaxis develops within three to 30 minutes after administration of the allergy shot, and physicians watch for side effects like:
- Swelling of the face and throat
- Difficulty breathing
- Wheezing or coughing
- Low pulse
- Red, itchy skin
- Changes in cognition, including confusion or anxiety
- Trouble speaking
- Pending sense of doom
Although these side effects are severe, they’re not the only complication of anaphylaxis. Due to the flood of chemicals released during the allergic reaction, the body may go into shock.
Anaphylactic shock causes a sudden drop in a patient’s blood pressure and their airways to close. When this occurs, it requires immediate medical attention and a dose of epinephrine, traditionally given through an EpiPen auto-injector.
What Is the Average Cost of Allergy Shots?
Allergy shots consist of two primary costs, the serum and the office visit for getting the injection. The cost of the medication averages about $100 a dose, while the administration can range from $20 to $100 or more.
Since physicians schedule allergy injections at least once a week during the build-up phase, the annual cost can range from $1,000 to $4,000, depending on location.
Does Insurance Cover Allergy Shots?
Allergy shots, including the serum and the office visit fee, are covered by most health insurance companies. Coverage varies across plans and may require copayments or a deductible. These injections are also covered by Medicare and most Medicare Advantage plans.
What Can You Expect to Pay Out of Pocket for Allergy Shots?
If you’re uninsured or under-insured, many allergists offer a discount for cash payments. Price is often determined by location, with offices in Texas offering yearly programs for under $1,000, while places like New York and California have annual costs as high as $4,000.
Those who do have insurance coverage for allergy injections may still have to meet a deductible or pay a copay.
Patients may also have costs associated with allergy testing, which must occur before immunotherapy can begin. While many physicians do in-office skin-prick tests, there are at-home allergy tests that require only a few drops of blood. These tests can identify a patient’s specific allergens and are essential in developing a long-term strategy for reducing allergy symptoms.
How Often Do You Need Allergy Shots?
When a patient starts taking allergy shots, they begin in the build-up phase. During this phase, they may receive injections one to three times a week. If the patient doesn’t react badly, the physician gradually increases the allergen dose until the optimal level is reached. This process could take up to six months.
Next is the maintenance phase, which lasts three to five years. During this phase, the dosage stabilizes, then eventually declines until the patient is only getting an injection once a month.
While immunotherapy slowly changes the immune system throughout the treatment process, many patients don’t notice a reduction in symptoms until the second year of treatment.
How Effective Are Allergy Shots?
Immunotherapy is the only research-based allergy treatment that offers long-term allergy relief. Although it takes time to reduce symptoms, allergy shots demonstrate up to 80% efficacy.
While the efficacy of allergy injections is high, it does come at the cost of side effects. There is the previously mentioned anaphylaxis, as well as others, including pain and redness at the injection site, swelling, and itching. Some patients may experience allergy-like symptoms, including hives, runny nose, watery eyes, or congestion.
Are There More Affordable Alternatives to Allergy Shots?
Allergy shots are not the only form of immunotherapy. Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) is based on the same principle as allergy shots. But instead of being injected into the body, this medication is absorbed through the mouth. Commonly referred to as allergy drops and allergy tablets, SLIT offers comparable effectiveness at a significantly lower cost.
One of the primary reasons for the price difference is that allergy drops are not given as an injection and do not have the same risk of anaphylaxis. Therefore, this form of immunotherapy can be taken from the comfort of home and does not require a recurring office visit fee or long waits.
Research shows that the cost-effectiveness of allergy drops outweighs that of allergy injections. Even when patients don’t adhere to the drop or tablet regimen, which causes a decrease in efficacy, sublingual immunotherapy is still more cost-effective. Interestingly, this research did not include the financial and time aspects of weekly trips to the physician’s office and time lost in waiting rooms, which could provide additional evidence that sublingual immunotherapy is even more cost-effective.
What Is Sublingual Immunotherapy?
Sublingual immunotherapy is an oral allergy medication that is self-administered. Patients place the drops or tablets under their tongues and allow them to be absorbed. Like allergy shots, allergy drops work by repeatedly exposing the body to allergens until it no longer reacts with an immune response. Allergy tablets work the same way, but only treat one allergy at a time.
How Much Does Sublingual Immunotherapy Cost?
Sublingual immunotherapy can range in price. At Wyndly, we offer a sublingual immunotherapy subscription service where medication is delivered to your door. Wyndly patients can get our at-home allergy drop subscription for only $99 a month.
This price includes allergy treatment, as well as regular visits with our in-house allergy specialists. Patients can reach an allergy specialist whenever needed, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our doctors are available through phone, text, video chat, and email.
Take Our Allergy Assessment
If you’re ready to begin your journey to a life free from allergy symptoms, it’s time to take action. Take our two-minute allergy assessment to see if you’re a candidate for sublingual immunotherapy. After your assessment, you’ll be one step closer to an allergy-free life!