What is Immunotherapy?
Immunotherapy is a program of regular exposures of increasing amounts of extracts of allergens (organic substances which cause allergies) to which you are sensitive.
When sufficient relief of your allergy symptoms cannot be achieved with environmental controls and medications, immunotherapy can reduce your sensitivities. It is effective for pollens, dust, mold spores, fungi, and some animal danders. We also treat for some foods, and tobacco smoke.
How does it work? Your allergy symptoms are caused by your body producing excessive amounts of allergy antibody when you breathe allergens. Immunotherapy helps your immune system build protective antibodies to the various allergens for which you are being treated. These protective antibodies reduce the allergic reactions and can suppress your system's tendency to produce excessive allergy antibodies.
Allergy immunotherapy can be done in one of two ways. Either through injections or through a regimen of sublingual drops, this also can be used for some food allergies. For more information on sublingual drops, please see Allergy Choices.
How often do I have to take shots?
Injections are administered weekly until you have achieved your maximum symptom-relieving dose. This takes several months depending on your degree of sensitivity.
The blood tests and skin tests indicate a safe starting dose. Each patient is different and the strength of the maintenance dose and frequency of injections is tailored to the individual.
The maximum symptom-relieving dose is then repeated weekly until your symptoms have been controlled through at least two consecutive seasons. After that time, an attempt is made to gradually taper your injections.
Most patients undergo Immunotherapy an average of three to five years.
Will all my symptoms be controlled with allergy shots?
Generally, as the strength of your treatment dose is increased, you will experience relief of your symptoms after the injection. This relief gradually wears off during the week and your symptoms may return. Eventually, the majority of your symptoms will be controlled from week to week.
Interruptions in your progress can occur if you have an infection, are under stress, or have other medical problems that are not controlled and can produce allergic-like symptoms. Excessive exposure to pollens, dust, molds, irritants, tobacco smoke or smog in your environment may cause an increase in your symptoms. It may be necessary to adjust your allergy dose and to take allergy medication.
Are there any side effects from allergy shots? Occasionally, you may have a local reaction at the injection site consisting of redness and swelling. It is usually of little importance. When a local reaction is great than 2 inches in diameter or persists for more than 48 hours, it is an indication to adjust your next treatment dose.
Rarely, you may experience a slight increase in your allergy symptoms the first day after the injection. This may be controlled with allergy medication if necessary and also indicates a need to adjust your treatment dose. It is important to notify us of any local reactions or increased symptoms.
Allergy injections can safely be administered during pregnancy.
How are allergy shots discontinued?
When your allergy symptoms have been controlled through two consecutive seasons, it is then appropriate to taper off allergy injections. If your symptoms have responded to immunotherapy, your inhalant allergy symptoms will remain controlled as the interval between injections is lengthened.
The method for tapering allergy injections is adjusted to fit the individual patients. The following suggestions may be altered by your physician.
Begin by extending the interval to every other week for three months. If you tolerate this, you may then extend the interval to every three weeks for three months, then to every four weeks for three months and then stop the injections.
If you find your symptoms recurring or worsening as the shots are tapered, you are not ready to discontinue therapy. You may need to continue shots at a 10-21 day interval for several months and then discontinue.
If you have stopped allergy injections for more than four weeks, you must be seen in the allergy department to determine a safe level at which to restart therapy.
What if my symptoms don't improve?
If you are not improving, you will be reevaluated. Other inhalant allergies or, perhaps, food sensitivities may be contributing to your symptoms.
Additionally, other factors can contribute allergic-like symptoms: irritants such as smog, smoke, and chemicals; other medical conditions and medication; stress and infection.
A final comment - The tendency to have allergies is inherited. Symptoms develop by repetitive exposures to the various allergens in your environment. After successfully completing immunotherapy, your allergy symptoms may recur and require further treatment.
Immunotherapy is not a cure for allergies and cannot provide 100% protection. You must take an active role in adjusting your environment to achieve the desired effect.