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Allergy Shots: An Overview

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Allergy shots are a type of immunotherapy treatment, wherein each shot contains a very minimum amount of certain specific substances that trigger allergic reactions inside your body. These substances are nothing but allergens and their dosage is adjusted just to stimulate the immune system without causing any severe allergic reaction. The immunotherapy shots are given when allergy medicines fail to heal you or the allergic symptoms persist for more than three months without any improvement.

Allergy immunotherapy proves a good treatment for people with allergic asthma, allergic rhinitis (hay fever), conjunctivitis (eye allergy) or stinging insect allergy. Also remember that it is not recommended for food allergies.

How do they Work?

Naturally, the white blood cells produce an antibody (called immunoglobulin) in response to the antigen.This antigen-antibody reaction triggers release of chemical substances into affected tissues, which gives rise to allergic symptoms. Sometimes the immune response of our body is so violent that the need to supress it arises immediately and that's when antigen shots come to play.  

Their primary function is to desensitize this reaction so that the immune response is mild and the allergic symptoms are significantly reduced. The therapy is carried out in the following way. Usually two phases are involved in the due course viz. the build-up phase and the maintenance phase. The build-up phase lasts for 3-6 months wherein the patient is given injections once or twice a week with increasing amounts of the allergens. The second phase is initiated after the most effective dose of the build-up phase is reached. The time gap between injections is extended to two to four weeks and the maintenance dose is also adjusted depending on the severity of the symptoms.

The dosage is determined absolutely by your doctor and over the time the dosage of allergens in each of your allergy shots is increased in order to make your body get used to the allergens. This process is known as desensitization. The outcome of this therapy is- your body gradually becomes tolerant to the allergens, the symptoms will decrease and the frequency of allergic reactions is also minimized.  

Preparing Yourself for the Shots

When you go for a test, make sure you clearly explain your doctor about your health condition. Also let him know if you feel unwell after the preliminary test or after taking the shots.

Your doctor will decide the course and duration of the shots. You will have to undergo a skin test to confirm that the symptoms are due to some kind of allergy. Then he will determine which allergens are causing it. Once that is confirmed, that specific allergen is scratched into your skin, which is kept under observation for 15 minutes. If your skin swells and redness appear, then your test is positive. Alternatively, you may have to undergo an allergy blood test also.

The End Result

As already said before, the length of the treatment varies from one individual to other. Signs of improvement are evident in the first year but you actually start healing in the second year. Adverse reactions to allergy shots are mild, but because reactions might occur, it is safest to have the shots given in an allergist’s office. In the third year, you are most likely to not have further allergic reactions to those substances. After few successful years of treatment, if you become completely immune to those allergens then the shots are stopped or else the duration is extended for some more time to keep the symptoms in check.

Side Effects of Allergy Shots

Although allergy shots are powerful immunotherapy treatments, you must be aware of their potential side effects before starting the treatment. They might cause various kinds of local reactions like itching, swelling, and irritation at the injection site within an hour.  Systematic reactions not very common, nonetheless you can experience light headedness, dizziness, wheezing or chest tightness, and throat swelling. One of the rarest but the most life threatening risk of allergy shots is anaphylaxis which often begins within 30 minutes of the injection or later than that. It causes sudden drop in blood pressure, breathing trouble, skin inflammation, and vomiting.

Risks are associated with any kind of medical treatment. If we weigh the long term benefits of allergy immunotherapy treatment, they are indeed more. The allergic symptoms are significantly reduced or are completely healed. All we advice you is- always consult your doctor before taking this decision and make sure you let him/her know how your body is responding to the shots. Rush to your doctor immediately on observing complications.

Written by: saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: January 01, 2014