If you have moderate to severe allergies, chances are your doctor has probably already recommended allergy shots, or immunotherapy as an effective treatment to relieve your symptoms.
But are they really the best option to alleviate your allergies? More importantly, are they safe for everyone?
Risks Associated with Allergy Shots
Although rare, there are some side effects associated with allergy shots.
Immunotherapy works as a kind of vaccine against allergens. Just as a vaccine works to build up the body’s immunity by introducing it to small amounts of a disease, allergy shots expose your body to the allergen you react to. And since you are allergic to that allergen, you could potentially have a reaction to that allergy shot.
Fortunately most of the side effects associated with immunotherapy are benign. The most common are just what they call local reactions. Local reactions are nothing more than swelling, redness or irritation around the area of the injection. This kind of side effect usually appears within a few hours of receiving the shot and clears up soon after.
A less common but more serious side effect, called a systemic reaction, affects the whole body or body system. A systemic reaction is similar to your typical allergy attack. The body responds to the allergy shot just as it would if exposed to the allergen itself. Symptoms include: sneezing, nasal congestion, hives, throat swelling, wheezing, and tightness in the chest. They usually appear within 30 minutes of administering the shot and clear up with your standard allergy medication.
The most severe type of reaction you could have from allergy shots is called anaphylactic shock. Anaphylaxis can be defined as the most acute form of allergic reaction and can even be life threatening. Going into anaphylactic shock after receiving an allergy shot is extremely rare but the risk exists nevertheless. Because allergy shots may induce anaphylaxis, some patients are strongly cautioned not to receive them.
When Allergy Shots Are Not Recommended
Allergy shots can be a very effective treatment option for some allergy sufferers. If you are considering immunotherapy keep in mind that it is a huge time commitment. You’ll need to invest a total of 3 to 5 years to complete. Whether it’s worth the expense and time depends mostly on the type of allergen you react to.
Doctors recommend avoidance of the allergen first, before all other treatments. If the patient is allergic to dust mites, for example, an allergist will suggest allergen-resistant bedding and other cleaning strategies to rid the dust mites from the home and reduce exposure. For those sufferers who can successfully manage their symptoms by avoiding the allergen, allergy shots may not be necessary.
Some people, on the other hand, may have a much harder time avoiding the allergens causing their reactions – sufferers with allergies to beestings, for example. Even doing your best to avoid bees does not guarantee you will never get stung. In these kind of instances allergy shots can be very helpful and are recommended.
But allergy shots are not recommended for everyone.
If you can manage your allergies well with medications, by avoiding the allergen, or if you have symptoms for just a few months each allergy season, then allergy shots are probably not worth the time, money, and potential risk.
Some patients, as well, have a greater chance of experiencing severe side effects. Those with the following conditions will likely be advised by their doctor to avoid immunotherapy treatment:
People With Poorly Controlled Asthma. Of the 10 million people who receive allergy shots annually, approximately 4 people will die from the treatment. Of those four fatalities, almost all are individuals with poorly controlled asthma.
Age is also a factor in determining whether or not allergy shots are a worthwhile treatment option. Children under five years of age are not advised to receive immunotherapy. Really young kids may not be able to effectively communicate to the doctor or nurse if they feel the symptoms of a reaction come on. Also at that age, children still have not developed all their allergies. Treating them with allergy shots would be premature. Older people, as well, are not great candidates to receive immunotherapy since allergies often disappear naturally at this later stage of life.
Allergy shots are an effective treatment option for some patients but they aren’t for everyone. Before committing to this time intensive treatment, weigh all your options and talk to your doctor to determine whether allergy shots are really right for you.