Antigens and allergens are the substances that drive those of us with allergies crazy. They’re hard to avoid, particularly if the antigen is something like tree pollen.
At St. Louis Sinus Center, we have a better idea, two actually. Those ideas include sublingual and subcutaneous immunotherapy, more commonly known as allergy drops and allergy shots. Immunotherapy addresses the underlying cause of your allergies, not just the resulting symptoms.
What Is Immunotherapy for Allergies?
Antihistamines and such simply try and calm allergic symptoms such as itchy, watery eyes. Immunotherapy instead gives the allergy sufferer a minute dose of what he or she is allergic to through a shot. Dosages are gradually increased until the patient develops a tolerance to the allergy-causing substance.
What Are Allergy Shots?
Allergy shots, clinically known as subcutaneous immunotherapy (SCIT), have been used for over 100 years. The FDA has approved numerous extracts used for these shots. Patients receive allergy shots when trying to treat allergic conditions affecting the nose and eyes, ears, and lungs. They are effective for heading off reactions to many allergens, including mold, house dust, animal dander, and insect stings.
How Do Allergy Shots Work?
Allergy testing first confirms the patient’s antigens. Then Dr. Gould will inject an extract of a small amount of the allergen into the patient’s arm. Injections are typically given once a week, but sometimes more often, for about seven months. Then the schedule will switch to once every two weeks, and eventually once per month. To develop immunity, the patient may require shots for 3-5 years, possibly longer.
How Do Allergy Shots Compare with Allergy Drops?
Allergy shots have been used for a longer period of time, for over a century. The FDA has approved various extracts for allergy shots but had not approved allergy drops initially.
Allergy shots can provide relief for more than one allergen in a single shot, whereas drops provide relief for a single allergen. At this point, allergy shots seem to have a somewhat wider group of allergens.
Allergy Shots Candidates
Patients that are allergic to the following are candidates for allergy shots which are effective in heading off symptoms of allergies.
- Dust mites
- Pet dander
- Other typical allergens
Benefits of Allergy Shots
Allergy shots are a type of immunotherapy that treats most possible allergens. The allergy shots treat the root cause of the allergy, rather than simply dealing with the symptoms. This is more practical over the long-term.
The goal with shots is to give the patient exposure to the allergen in small doses, gradually increasing the amount over time. Eventually, the patient can build up immunity to an allergen that may have bothered them for decades.
Risks of Immunotherapy Shots
With allergy shots, there is a small risk of anaphylactic shock, a severe allergic reaction. This can happen shortly after the injection is given. For that reason, allergy shots can only be given in a doctor’s office.
How Long Does It Take Immunotherapy to Calm My Allergies?
Allergy shots are best when viewed as preventative, not reactive. Unlike a penicillin shot that is a response to an infection, immunotherapy seeks to slowly build up tolerance and immunity to an allergen. How effective they are immediately is variable by the patient. These shots aren’t meant to be delivered as instant allergy fixes.