Allergy immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots or allergy immunization, treats allergy symptoms by retraining the immune system. Understanding how allergy symptoms develop will help you understand allergy shots. When your body gets exposed to an allergen, such as pollen, your body then produces an antibody called IgE reports the American Academy of Pediatrics in its book “Caring for Your Baby and Young Child.” This IgE then stimulates the body to release histamines and leukotrienes that cause the sneezing, coughing and running nose symptoms that are common with allergies.
How Allergy Immunotherapy Works
Before getting allergy shots, the patient first must be tested for specific allergies. An allergist may order skin tests, blood tests or both to determine exactly what you are allergic to, such as specific tree species, foods or molds. Once these specific allergies are known, a solution, in the form of a shot, is created just for you that contains minute amounts of what you are allergic to. For example, if you are allergic to molds, your allergy immunotherapy shot will contain small amounts of that mold. This is then injected into your body to desensitize your immune system to that allergen. Once you are desensitized, your body will make less of the IgE antibodies, eventually reducing or eliminating your allergy symptoms.
For allergy shots to take effect, an individual needs regular shots over the course of several years. The exact number of shots and how long this will take depends on each individual’s response to the shots. You may need shots several times a week for several months to start and then monthly shots for several years, reports MayoClinic.com. As your immune system gets used to the allergens in your system, you will receive shots with progressively higher doses of the allergens to desensitize your immune system increasingly.
The greatest benefit from allergy immunotherapy treatment is that you may become free of all allergy symptoms over time. Although, with each individual results do vary. Most patients do report significantly fewer allergy symptoms after three years of treatment, reports MayoClinic.com.
The most common risks are associated with the injection site. Some people may experience pain and/or swelling where they received the shot. In rare cases, complications that are more serious may occur following the injection. These include serious allergic reactions, such as breathing difficulties, hives, congestion and anaphylaxis. Allergists do take steps to minimize any risks. After each shot, you will be required to remain in the doctor’s office for 30 to 60 minutes to watch for any side effects. Doctors have medication on hand to treat the most severe reactions.
Children and Allergies
Children can also develop severe allergies at a young age. “If your child has a tendency to develop allergies, he probably has inherited it from you and your spouse,” state the American Academy of Pediatrics in its book “Caring for Your Baby and Young Child.” Likewise, children as young as 3 can start on allergy shots. However, the severity of your child’s symptoms needs to be weighed against having to give your child shots on such a regular basis for several years. For this reason, many allergists prefer to wait until a child is older to start allergy immunotherapy on children.