Comprehensive treatment of allergies sometimes involves immunotherapy, more commonly referred to as allergy injections. It can be used to treat allergies to trees, grasses, weeds, ragweed, molds, dust mites, animal dander and stinging insects. Allergy injections are not used as a treatment for food allergies. When indicated, the only treatment for food sensitivities is a strict elimination diet (avoidance). Immunotherapy is indicated when:
- An individual has multiple allergies and experiences year-round symptoms, necessitating the use of daily medications.
- An individual has difficult symptoms that cannot be managed satisfactorily with medications alone.
- An individual is intolerant of the side effects of available allergy medications.
Allergy injections are a form of immunization, a means of making an individual less allergic to specific allergens. Small doses of the specific allergen to which you are allergic are injected subcutaneously. This stimulates the body to produce an immune response which decreases sensitivity to the specific allergens.
Once the decision has been made to begin a program of immunotherapy, a mixture containing purified, sterile extracts of the allergens that correspond to your allergy history and skin test results, is prepared. This mixture is then diluted several times to create bottles of varying strengths, so as to gradually reach a protective or maintenance level.
The goal of immunotherapy is to reduce allergic symptoms and the need for medications. Allergy injections are not a complete cure for allergies, but act to make an individual less sensitive to his or her allergies. Allergy medications may still be needed, but hopefully in lesser amounts. It is important to note that medications simply mask allergy symptoms, but allergy injections offer the potential of more permanent relief. If therapy is to be fully successful, avoidance measures for the specific allergens must still be closely followed.
Allergy injections are given year-round initially at weekly (6 to 10 days) intervals, starting with the weakest mixture and proceeding to the strongest mixture. The dose is gradually increased each week, provided that there are no adverse reactions. This process usually takes about 6-7 months until the final or maintenance dose is reached.
Once the build-up process has been completed and the maintenance dose has been reached, the shots are then given every 2 weeks, then every 3 weeks, and finally once a month. Improvement in allergy symptoms may be noted as early as 6 months into the injection program, but are more commonly noted between the first and second year of therapy.
If the injections have proved to be of benefit during the first 2 years, they are typically continued for a 5 year period. Relapses occur at a high rate if shots are not continued for at least 5 years. You will be required to schedule a follow-up appointment with the doctor every 6 months to evaluate your progress while on immunotherapy.
Injection of any foreign substance into the body can potentially cause adverse reactions. The most common reactions to an allergy injection are swelling along with redness and itchiness at the injection site. This type of localized reaction usually goes away on its own, although on occasion the use of ice and an antihistamine may be necessary to reduce swelling. Generally, if the swelling is the size of a quarter or larger, the dose of the next allergy injection must be reduced, as a more serous reaction could occur if the dose is increased.
Rarely, a systemic allergic reaction called anaphylaxis may occur. This is an immediate, severe, potentially life-threatening generalized reaction. Signs and symptoms associated with anaphylaxis are increased allergy symptoms (itchy eyes, nasal stuffiness, sneezing, etc.), generalized itchiness, facial flushing, difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, or the sensation of passing out. In addition, the pulse rate increases and the blood pressure can drop. This is why allergy injections should be administered in a medical setting that is supervised by a physician and health care staff who are trained to handle such emergencies. Usually, injections of epinephrine and oral antihistamines are sufficient in countering these reactions.
For allergy shots, please call the office to set up an appointment. Please check with your insurance company for coverage.