Should I get allergy shots? Answers to common questions
If you experience symptoms year-round and your antihistamine isn’t cutting it, you may want to look into this highly effective treatment.
Pets, the great outdoors, the changing of the seasons — these are all things that can bring on sneezing, sniffling, stuffy nose, watery eyes and wheezing. Antihistamines offer an immediate, short-term option, but allergy shots might be a better choice to curtail symptoms and even cure your allergies. We asked David Hagaman, M.D., at Vanderbilt’s Asthma, Sinus & Allergy Program about the extremely effective therapy.
Who should get allergy shots?
Allergies can be treated in three ways. You can either avoid whatever makes you miserable, take antihistamines, or, if you don’t mind needles, try allergy shots. “The way that I treat my patients is that we always try medicine and avoidance first,” Hagaman said. “Then we reserve shots for the patients who don’t respond to medicine and avoidance or for those folks who don’t want to take much medicine — either because of side effects or inconvenience.”
Do allergy shots really work?
Allergy shots are a potential cure for allergies, whereas other remedies offer only temporary symptom relief. “They are absolutely very effective,” Hagaman said. “It’s been proven over and over that these shots will work if you give the patient a high enough dosage and for the right things.” Allergy shots are appropriate if you have household, seasonal, animal dander or insect sting allergies. They do not work for food allergies.
What is the commitment level?
Unlike popping a pill, getting allergy shots is more time consuming in both the short and long term. When starting allergy shots, you’ll undergo a build-up phase. That’s where you’ll start a very low dosage that slowly increases over the next two or three months. During that time, you’ll get your shots twice a week. You’ll also be required to spend 30 minutes or more at your doctor’s office after you receive your shot. Once that phase is complete, then you’ll get a shot just twice a month. But you’ll still need to spend at least 30 minutes at the clinic. For maximum effectiveness, you will take allergy shots for three to five years. “It is a big commitment,” Hagaman said. Vanderbilt does offer a rush immunotherapy program for some patients who are looking to speed up the build-up phase. “It’s a lot easier to get shots twice a month than twice a week,” he said.
What are the risks?
Patients must wait 30 minutes after receiving an allergy shot just in case there is a reaction to the small amounts of allergens that are injected. “If they’re going to have a reaction, it will happen during that time, and we’ll be able to treat them while they’re in the office,” he explained.
How much do allergy shots cost?
Thankfully, insurance companies realize the benefits of allergy shots, and most of them are open to covering immunotherapy as a benefit.
Can allergy shots help with asthma?
If someone has allergy-induced asthma and receives allergy shots, it could improve his or her asthma symptoms. For kids, shots could make a world of difference. “If you start an allergic child on immunotherapy,” Hagaman said, “oftentimes you can go on and prevent them from having asthma.”
Contact Vanderbilt Asthma, Sinus and Allergy Program for an evaluation and the most up-to-date treatment recommendations. Call 615-936-2727 for an appointment.