Allergy Shots: A Proven Option You Shouldn’t Ignore

Effective therapy not always on the radar

Woman with allergies

Antihistamines and allergy medication offer a quick fix for the sneezing, runny nose, itchiness, teary eyes and difficulty breathing brought on by allergies. But a longer-lasting, proven treatment often goes ignored: allergy shots.

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“When it’s impossible to avoid allergy triggers or allergy medicine isn’t working, it may be time to consider allergy shots,” says Cleveland Clinic allergist Cristine Radojicic, MD.

Shots help with two types of allergies

Allergy shots can’t protect against food, drug or latex allergies. But they can relieve nose (allergic rhinitis), eye (allergic conjunctivitis) and airway (allergic asthma) symptoms triggered by:

1. Airborne allergens

  • Cat and dog dander
  • Dust mites
  • Mold spores
  • Pollen from trees, grasses or weeds

 2. Insect venom (can cause particularly dangerous reactions)

  • Honeybee
  • Hornet
  • Wasp
  • Yellow jacket

“Evidence suggests that shots may effectively treat atopic dermatitis (itchy skin rashes) caused by airborne allergens. Shots may also prevent people with allergic rhinitis from developing asthma,” says Dr. Radojicic.

However, allergy shots aren’t for everyone. People with severe asthma or heart disease, or who need to take medications such as beta-blockers should not have shots.

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“Shots have been given for more than 100 years. This is a therapy that has withstood the test of time.”

“You can start allergy shots whenever you and your allergist determine that medical therapy and avoidance measures have not been effective,” says Dr. Radojicic. “Talk to your physician to see if they’re appropriate for you. Your other health conditions and your ability to complete the shot regimen are important considerations.”

No quick fix

Like vaccines, allergy shots build up immunity. However, “this is not a quick-fix therapy,” cautions Dr. Radojicic. “Shot programs range from three to five years.”

For most allergies, you get one shot per week for 35 weeks. (The shot schedule for insect allergies is a little different.) Each shot contains a small dose of the allergen that gradually increases each week. When you reach the highest dose about nine months later, you continue on maintenance shots every two to four weeks.

Bit by bit, your body becomes used to the allergen. And that relief can last long after you stop getting shots.

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A century of safe treatment

It’s important to consult a board-certified allergist about shots. Very rarely, allergy shots can lead to anaphylactic shock. An allergist’s staff is trained to treat potential systemic reactions such as hives, wheezing or hypotension.

The slight risk of reaction from shots should not be a deterrent, says Dr. Radojicic. The allergen extracts used in shots are highly standardized today — produced consistently from batch to batch for reliable quality and dosing.

“Shots have been given for more than 100 years. This is a therapy that has withstood the test of time,” says Dr. Radojicic.

If your allergies are making you miserable and you are willing to invest the time, consider asking an allergist if shots may be right for you.

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