Immunotherapy injections, or allergy shots, is a treatment option for people who suffer from certain allergies. Some of the allergies this can alleviate include asthma or rhinitis, conjunctivitis or stinging insects.

How Immunotherapy Injections Work

The injections work by decreasing sensitivity to allergens and may even provide relief from allergy symptoms long after treatment ends. These types of injections are not an option for individuals with food allergies. Fortunately for this group, avoiding contact and/or consuming food allergens is all that is required to prevent an allergic reaction.

An allergist administers a series of injections of a vaccine containing a particular allergen. These injections are given to the patient over a period of time, with each dose gradually increased. This is done to build up immunity to the allergen. Treatment starts with a “build-up” phase, where you receive an injection once or twice per week for three to six months, depending on the frequency of the injections.

Once the effective dosage is obtained, the maintenance phase begins. You will receive an injection every two to four weeks, whichever the allergist decides is best. The maintenance treatment continues for three to five years if the treatment works.

Who May Benefit?

Anyone with an allergy may benefit from immunotherapy injections. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAI), these injections are not meant for children under 5. People with certain medical conditions such as heart disease should talk to an allergist before receiving immunotherapy injections.

The allergist will decide whether allergy shots are an option for you based on factors including:

  • Cost (which can vary)
  • The severity of your symptoms and length of allergy season
  • How well medication and environmental controls have worked for you
  • Your availability for treatment

Do Immunotherapy Injections Work?

Allergy shots may decrease allergy symptoms and prevent new allergies from developing. In children, they may also prevent allergic rhinitis from progressing to asthma. Results may vary among patients. Some patients’ symptoms go away and do not return for a long time, while others experience symptoms shortly after treatment ends.

If your allergy symptoms do not improve after a year of maintenance therapy, you will need to discuss other treatment options with your allergist.

Side Effects

Immunotherapy injections should only be done under the supervision of a qualified allergist or immunologist. Side effects are typically not serious and may include redness and swelling at the injection site, hives, nasal congestion or sneezing.

In rare cases an anaphylactic reaction can occur, which requires immediate medical attention. You should wait in the doctor’s office for at least 30 minutes after you receive an injection, just to be on the safe side.