Shot In The Arm

How do allergy shots stop the sniffles?

Do you remember allergy shots? It seemed they were all the rage about 20 years ago.

Allergy shots work to help reduce allergy symptoms through injecting a very tiny amount of an allergen directly into the patient's body. The theory is that the person's tolerance to the substance will be increased over time through the injection of the allergen. In addition, the use of allergy shots sometimes helped patients to avoid asthma altogether. The most popular allergy shots were for mold and pollens from such things as grass, trees or ragweed.

So how does getting a direct dosage of allergen help the allergic? Well, the body is forced to deal with the allergen differently when it is injected. In fact, the body will begin to produce antibodies to the allergen. Antibodies have the ability to stop the allergic reaction from taking place, because the antibodies prevent the typical histamine reaction.

This treatment has to be followed for a reasonable length of time before the patient gets results; it is not an immediate cure. Six months is typical. However, once the patient finds that symptoms are reduced, the effect should last for a long time.

Allergy shots are not for everyone. Shots are most effective for pollen allergies, bee sting allergies and some drug allergies. In addition, most people don't like to get needles. As a result, shots tend to be the treatment of choice only after other treatments haven't worked. Since patients can actually avoid allergens in many cases, this approach is preferable to a course of injections.

Allergy shots do not continue indefinitely. Shots generally start on a schedule of 1 or 2 a week. After about 1 ½ to 2 months, a maintenance schedule begins, where the patient will receive an injection only once a month. This schedule could continue for as much as 3 or 4 years, depending on how the patient reacts to the treatment. In some cases, the physician will then discontinue the injections, on the assumption that the patient's reduction of symptoms is now permanent.

The treatment is not without side effects. Some people may react to the allergy shots themselves with some swelling or inflammation around the area where they received the needle. However, it is also possible to experience a very severe reaction, so most patients will be asked to hang around the clinic for about 20 minutes after receiving an injection to ensure that there will not be a severe reaction.

News Release, June 16, 2006

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