Immunotherapy, or allergy shots, is a treatment used to relieve allergy symptoms of hay fever or allergic asthma. This is done by administering injections of substances such as pollens, mold spores, dust mites, animal danders, or insects to which an individual has been found to be allergic by skin testing.
The mechanisms of its effect are the subject of ongoing research. However, immunotherapy initiates processes that seem to ‘turn off’ the abnormal immune reaction that we term ‘allergy’. When an allergic person is exposed to an allergy-causing substance (such as cat dander), he or she may develop symptoms of sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, water eyes, chest tightness, or wheezing. Various cells that line the nose in the airways actually release chemicals called mediators that cause these symptoms. Inflammation of the tissues accompanies this process and leads to persistent symptoms. Immunotherapy works to interfere with this complex allergic interaction and keeps inflammation and symptoms from getting started.
During the ‘build up’ phase, increasing doses of allergy injections are given once or twice a week until a predetermined target or ‘maintenance’ dose is reached.
Shots are usually administered every 1-4 weeks over the next several years of treatment. Symptom improvement with allergy shots usually occurs in the first year. In a small percentage of patients, there is no improvement and immunotherapy may be discontinued or the patient retested. However when symptoms do improve, injections are usually continued for 4 to 5 years of maintenance therapy. At that time, you and your doctor will make a joint decision about whether to gradually taper and discontinue injections or to continue treatment.
While avoidance is the best defense, it is often impossible to avoid allergens that can trigger your allergies. To relieve the suffering of allergy symptoms, for most inhalant allergies (dust mites, cockroaches, cats, pollen, mold) and stinging insect (bees, wasps) allergies, you can get allergy shots.
Recent research has clearly shown the effectiveness of allergen vaccine immunotherapy for both allergic rhinitis and asthma. It is also highly effective for stinging insect allergies. These new studies have confirmed what allergy specialists have observed for years in their patients: Allergy shots work in relieving allergy symptoms! In fact allergy shots are the ONLY way to suppress the underlying allergy response for long-term relief.