If you suffer from allergies, you’re familiar with the constant congestion, sneezing, itching, watery eyes, and other hay fever symptoms that always spring up as springtime rolls around. Or maybe your symptoms plague you all year long because of ever-present pets, mold, and dust.
Perhaps you’ve tried oral decongestants, nasal sprays, and eye drops – all with no long-term success. If that’s the case for you, you’re not alone. Allergies are the 6th most common cause of chronic illnesses in the US.
Fortunately, one of the most effective treatments is one of the simplest: an allergy shot. We’ve asked Dr. Daniel Reichmuth, one of our expert immunologists, to share insight into the question, “Are allergy shots worth it?”
First, what are allergy shots?
Allergy shots are a type of immunotherapy aimed at reducing or eliminating allergy symptoms.
Allergy shots use tiny doses of a specific allergen to desensitize your immune system’s response to that allergen. By regularly exposing your body to small amounts of an allergen, you can develop an immunity over time. That can erase your symptoms (and cut down on your need to keep resupplying your stock of eye drops and tissues).
You may benefit from allergy shots if:
- Other treatments don’t work or don’t provide long-lasting relief
- You want to cut back on taking over-the-counter medication
- You have allergies that can’t be controlled by other medications
There are few things to consider if you’re wondering if you should pursue allergy shots.
1. Allergy shots treat many kinds of allergies.
Allergy shots are great for treating indoor and outdoor allergies caused by environmental irritants, like pollen and dust.
If you feel like you can’t escape allergens no matter how much you clean or how many decongestants you take, shots may provide long-term relief.
Shots can treat symptoms caused by these common allergens:
- Dust mites
- Pollen (from weeds, flowers, trees, etc.)
- Animal dander
- Mold spores
- Certain stinging insects such as bees, wasps, yellow jackets, fire ants
Note: Food allergies cannot be treated with shots. Talk with your healthcare provider about other options for treating food allergies.
2. You’ll have to stick to a schedule.
For treatment to be most effective, you’ll need to create an allergy shot plan that involves multiple doses over a period of time.
Exactly how many doses you’ll need and for how long will depend on your individual situation. Dr. Reichmuth, one of the expert immunologists at Florida Medical Clinic, says your doctor will work with you to create a schedule best suited for your symptoms.
Schedules are split into two phases: the build-up phase and the maintenance phase.
During the buildup phase, allergy injections are given more frequently, typically 1-2 times a week for 4-8 months. During maintenance phase, the injections become less frequent (usually every 2 to 4 weeks) according to the plan you create with your immunologist.
3. Most insurances have you covered.
Allergy shots are typically covered by most health insurances, though this may vary depending on your specific plan. Even if your shots are covered by insurance, you still may have to pay a copay for each visit. For some, this cost may be cheaper than the total price of over-the-counter medications and other sick visits related to hay fever symptoms.
If you have questions about your insurance coverage, we encourage you to reach out to your insurer. Otherwise, you can discuss costs with your healthcare provider directly.
4. Allergy shots are usually very safe.
Allergy shots are well-tolerated by most people, and any side effects tend to be minor. Your doctor will discuss possible side effects to look out for during your visit. Shots are suitable for most patients over the age of five.
The most common side effects are typical of any injection, which include redness, swelling, or itching at the injection site.
If you experience trouble breathing, dizziness, or throat swelling after an injection, it’s important to let your allergy provider know immediately. These may be signs of anaphylaxis, which is a rare but serious side effect. Your doctor will ask you to wait in the clinic for half an hour after getting an injection to monitor you for signs of anaphylaxis.
5. Allergy shots are effective.
Allergy shots are usually a very effective way of treating chronic allergies. It may take some time, but most people find that regular shots can help them when other common treatments haven’t worked. Studies show that 85% of people who suffer from hay fever see a reduction in their symptoms when they receive shots.
Many people avoid allergy shots because they’re afraid of injections. But the benefit is that the pain of an injection lasts just a moment – while the relief of no more symptoms can last a lifetime.
Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of allergy shots do I need?
The kind of shot you get depends on what you’re allergic to. Before starting treatment, you’ll be tested to identify exactly what substances trigger your symptoms and determine what goes into your treatment.
For example, if you experience a lot of symptoms in the spring, you may have a pollen allergy. You’ll be tested to determine exactly what type of pollen your immune system is reacting to. Your immunologist will then formulate allergy shots that are made just for you.
How long do they take to work?
It varies from patient to patient. Some find relief from symptoms in just a few months during the build-up phase. Others require a full year of consistent treatment to see significant improvement.
You should talk to your doctor if you’re concerned that your symptoms aren’t going away. Adjusting your shot schedule or slightly reformulating your medicine may help.
Can children receive treatment?
Yes, allergy shots are safe for kids. In fact, immunotherapy may help kids avoid developing other allergies or asthma as they get older.
Immunotherapy is safe for children 5 years of age or older. They may be administered even earlier if a board-certified allergist or immunologist determines it’s appropriate.
What happens if I stop getting the shots? Is it safe to stop in the middle of treatment?
Yes, it’s safe to stop in the middle of treatment. However, if you choose to stop before your doctor’s recommendation, your symptoms may come back.
Immunotherapy works slowly over time, so it’s important to be patient even if you feel like you’re not seeing improvements. Talk with your doctor if you’re not finding relief from your symptoms and want to stop.
My allergy shots aren’t working. Why could that be?
There are a few different reasons why you may not be finding relief from immunotherapy.
The first is time. As stated previously, immunotherapy is a slow process. It can take several months for your symptoms to start disappearing. If you’ve been receiving consistent shots for a year and haven’t noticed any changes, talk to your immunologist about next steps.
Alternatively, you may be allergic to something that wasn’t identified in your allergy test and isn’t included in your treatment formula. Your immunologist may have you retested or administer a different kind of test.
Lastly, you might not be receiving a high enough dose. Shot schedules start with very small amounts which are slowly increased over time. It’s possible you may need a higher dose or need to receive injections more often. Your doctor can advise you on your options.
Will my allergies be cured?
Allergies are not like a bacterial infection that is cured when bacteria are killed with antibiotics. Allergy symptoms are your immune system’s response to otherwise harmless substances called allergens. Shots can help desensitize your immune system to these agents by inducing tolerance.
Some find their symptoms completely disappear and never return. Others may enjoy relief for several years before symptoms resurface. Your body’s response depends on your own immune system.
What if I have more questions?
If you’re still wondering, “Are allergy shots worth it?”, the immunologists at Florida Medical Clinic are here to help. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Daniel Reichmuth in Land O’Lakes, Wesley Chapel or Zephyrhills, FL, please click here.
Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to substitute professional medical advice. Always talk with your doctor before starting or stopping medications.