Do Allergy Shots Really Work
Published Aug 2, 2021
Allergy shots are a series of injections given over a period of time — mostly three to five years — to prevent or minimize allergic reactions. They are a type of treatment also known as immunotherapy.
Each allergy shot contains a small amount of the allergen or allergens that cause your allergic reactions. Thus, allergy shots have precisely the right amount of allergens to boost your immune system but not enough to cause a massive allergic reaction.
Your doctor gradually increases the allergen dose in each of your allergy shots. This assists in acclimating your body to allergens (desensitization). Your immune system develops a tolerance to the allergens, resulting in a gradual decrease in allergy symptoms.
Why should you get allergy shots?
Allergy shots can be a good treatment option if:
- Medication does not effectively control your symptoms, and you cannot prevent the triggers of your allergic reactions.
- Allergy medications may contradict other medicines that you must take or may create unpleasant side effects.
- You’d like to decrease your long-term reliance on allergy medication.
- You have an allergy to insect stings.
Allergy shots can be used to alleviate symptoms caused by the following:
You may be allergic to pollens from trees, weeds, grasses if you suffer from seasonal allergic asthma or hay fever symptoms.
If you experience symptoms year-round, you may be allergic to indoor allergens such as cockroaches, dust mites, mildew, or pet dander (from cats or dogs).
Bees, hornets, wasps, and yellow jackets can all cause allergic reactions to insect stings.
Who isn’t a good candidate for allergy shots?
Allergy shots are only given to children over the age of five. This is because those under the age of five may be unable to speak adequately about potential side effects and discomfort that would justify discontinuing the allergy treatment.
Additionally, allergy injections are not recommended if:
- you are pregnant
- you are suffering from heart disease
- you experience severe asthma
How often do you need it?
For several months, you’ll visit your doctor once or twice a week; this will be the buildup phase. Then, you will receive the shot in the upper arm. It will have a small amount of the allergen to which you are allergic — for example, pet dander, pollen, dust mites, mold, or bee venom.
The dose will be gradually increased until you reach what is known as a maintenance dose. Following that, you’ll typically receive injections every 2-4 weeks for 4-5 months. Then, over the next few years, your doctor will progressively increase the interval between shots until you receive them approximately once a month for 3-5 years; this will be the maintenance phase. During this period, your allergy symptoms will improve and may possibly disappear.
If your symptoms do not show any improvements after a year of shots, discuss alternate treatment options with your doctor.
How do allergy shots work?
Allergy shots work by alleviating symptoms associated with specific allergens.
Since each injection contains small amounts of the allergen, your body gradually develops immunity to things that make you allergic. The process is similar to receiving a vaccine, in which your body produces new antibodies to fight the intrusive substances.
Additionally, allergy shots increase the way that other immune system cells and molecules respond to allergens. As a result, successful immunotherapy eventually aids the body in fighting allergens and alleviates undesirable symptoms.
Moreover, they are intended to reduce general allergy symptoms gradually. Reduced asthma symptoms are also possible if you have an allergy (asthma).
What are the risks or side effects?
The majority of people have little difficulty with allergy shots. However, they include the allergens that cause your allergies – which means that reactions are possible and may include the following:
This may manifest itself in the form of redness, swelling, or irritation at the injection area. These common reactions often show themselves within a few hours of the injection and resolve quickly.
These are less frequent — but potentially more severe — occurrences. Nasal congestion, sneezing, or hives may develop. Severe reactions may include wheezing, swelling of the throat, or chest discomfort.
This is an extremely unusual and potentially fatal reaction to allergy injections. It may result in low blood pressure and difficulty breathing. Anaphylaxis often starts within 30 minutes of the shot but may occur later than that.
If you receive weekly or monthly shots regularly without missing doses, your risk of having a significant reaction is reduced.
Pre-medication with an antihistamine before receiving your allergy shot will help minimize your likelihood of experiencing a reaction, particularly a local reaction. Consult your physician for medical advice to determine if this is appropriate for you.
The risk of a strong reaction may be frightening, but you will not be alone. You’ll be examined in the doctor’s office for 30 minutes following each shot, which is often when the most severe reactions occur. If you experience it after leaving, contact your doctor or go to the nearest emergency room. If your physician recommends it, administer epinephrine.
How should you prepare for allergy shots?
Once you schedule an appointment, avoid exercise or intense activity for two hours prior to and following your allergy shot. This is because exercise increases blood flow to the tissues, which may allow allergens to move more quickly throughout your body. Although it is unlikely to produce a significant problem, it is prudent to be cautious.
Inform your doctor of any additional herbs, medications, or supplements you are taking. Certain medications can obstruct treatment or increase the risk of adverse effects. If you use these medications, you may need to discontinue allergy shots.
Consult your doctor if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant to determine whether you should continue receiving this treatment.
Is it effective?
Allergy shots may offer long-term comfort even after the injections are discontinued. Specific individuals who have undergone allergy shots may no longer require allergy medication. However, results may take up to a year of maintenance doses. Also, some individuals may see benefits throughout the maintenance phase.
In some circumstances, allergy shots are ineffective. This could be for a variety of reasons, including the following:
- discontinuing treatment due to adverse reactions
- being exposed to allergens at extremely high doses
- there is an insufficient amount of allergen in the actual shots
- allergens that were overlooked during your initial evaluation
When To Call A Doctor
Call 911 and proceed to the nearest emergency room if you experience a tight throat, shortness of breath, or any other symptoms following your shot.
How much does an allergy shot cost?
Typically, health insurance covers allergy shots. However, each appointment may require payment of a copay. Copays are often small fees to pay.
If you lack health insurance, have a high deductible, or your plan does not cover allergy shots, you could end up spending thousands of dollars each year.
An extensive study published in 2019 examined the cost of allergy injections for individuals with commercial insurance or Medicare Advantage with Part D. The researchers analyzed data from 2013 to 2015.
- The total cost of allergy injections administered to 131,493 patients was $253,301,575. This equates to around $1,926 per person on average.
- Individuals with allergies covered approximately 19% of overall costs, while insurers covered roughly 81 percent.
- Treatment lasted approximately 463.1 days (or around 15 months).
Before starting treatment, discuss payment options and costs with your doctor.
Bear in mind that allergy shots require a commitment over an extended period. In addition, they require numerous injections, so plan accordingly if you’re paying for them out of pocket.
Additionally, consider that allergy shots may help you save money on sick visits and over-the-counter (OTC) allergy medications over time.
Allergy symptoms do not resolve themselves overnight. They typically improve throughout the first year of treatment, although the greatest improvement frequently occurs during the second year. By the third year, the majority of people have developed tolerance to the allergens contained in the shots and no longer experience strong allergic reactions to them.
After a few years of regular treatment, some people continue to have minimal allergy symptoms even after discontinuing allergy shots. Other individuals require continuing injections to maintain symptom control.
If you have food allergies, talk to your doctor about strategies to avoid the foods to which you are allergic. Take note that allergy shots are ineffective in the treatment of food allergies.