INTRODUCTION TO ALLERGY IMMUNOTHERAPY
What are allergies?
An allergy is an abnormal reaction to substances that are harmless to most persons. Most allergens come in the form of pollens (trees, grass, weeds), mold spores, animal dander (cat, dog), dust mites, and certain foods. Patients who are allergic have unwanted excessive reactions when in contact to these allergens, including, itchy eyes, runny nose, itchy dry skin, frequent colds/respiratory tract infections, asthma flares, and unfortunately many more symptoms.
How do we treat it?
There are three ways of treating allergic diseases. The first is avoidance, by reducing exposure to environmental sources (when possible) or avoiding offending foods proven to cause symptoms. Second, when avoidance is not possible, we attempt to relieve the patient’s symptoms with allergy medications. This can be effective, but some symptoms require constant medications or don’t respond well to medications. Finally, the most advanced and effective form of treatment is through allergy immunotherapy (injections) to build up the patient’s tolerance to allergens over a period of time.
What are allergy shots?
Allergy immunotherapy also known as “Allergy injections” works by helping to build a person’s immunity or defenses to allergens. Allergy shots have shown to decrease symptoms of many environmental allergies like dust mites, pollens, mold spores, animal dander, and insect venoms. We cannot vaccinate for food allergy, latex, or tobacco allergy because they are not effective. The effectiveness of allergy shots appears to be related to the length of the treatment program as well as the dose of the allergen. Allergy injections consist of injecting a patient with increasing small amounts of allergens they are found to be sensitive to through skin testing. It is done carefully and safely at our immunotherapy center at our clinic. Even though most patients experience benefits after 6 months to 1 year, patients need to continue for up to 5 years to ensure long-term benefits and to increase the likelihood that when you complete your therapy, your symptoms will remain well controlled.
Who should get allergy shots?
Patients with nasal symptoms, eye symptoms, asthma, and skin symptoms related to environmental allergies most benefit from allergy immunotherapy. During your visit, our specialists will evaluate if allergy shots are the best option for you. If you have significant and/or frequent allergy flares, highly reactive or numerous sensitivities based on skin testing, are interested in being on less medications over time, seeking more natural options, and are interested in more long-lasting treatment options, allergy shots may be right for you.
Will it hurt?
Allergy shots are given through an extremely thin needle into the big arm muscles similar to flu shots (just less painful). Many of our young patients feel little discomfort. Some patients don’t even realize it when the shot has been given.
Where can I get my allergy shots?
For safety reasons, allergy shots must be given at a physician’s office (NO EXCEPTIONS) It is preferred to be administered conveniently at our office where we have experienced staff to assist you. There are some primary care providers that might agree to provide allergy shots at their office. If you are interested in this option, please let us know and we will give you the paperwork needed to take to your doctor. Before you start your injections, we will give you an orientation to your future allergy shot visits.
When can I get my allergy shots?
Pretty much during office hours, no appointment needed. We open our shot center early, 7:30 AM, Mondays through Friday. We will give you a calendar to help you with future planning. You can adjust the days you come in to your convenience.
How frequently will I get the shots?
Allergy injections are usually started on a twice a week schedule. Most patients require 2-3 injections at a time in order to include all the relevant allergens in their serum. We recommend for patients to come twice weekly if possible to build-up efficiently and reach your maintenance dose faster. Once you reach your maintenance dose, we can reduce the frequency of your shot visits to once weekly. (Compliant patients can often reach this level in 4 mos. If you can only come in once weekly due to your schedule, we can still help you. It may take a little longer to reach the maintenance dose, but you will be taking steps towards improving your allergy symptoms once and for all! Remember the doctor will still schedule visits with you every 3-6 mos to help you keep the best control of your allergy symptoms.
What if I miss a dose?
Everyone will miss a week or two in their shot schedule on occasion, but frequent drop in the schedule can delay your progress, increase your allergy flares and the risk for adverse reactions to your allergy injections. Please inform our staff if you are going out of staff for more than 1 week so we can advice you on your allergy shots.
Are there any side effects with allergy shots?
Since allergy injections contain materials to which a person is known to be sensitive, there is always a chance of adverse reactions. The most common type of reaction is itching and redness where the injection is administered. All types of reaction, ranging from mild to severe require supervision, and so we require that all injections be given in a medical facility equipped to treat allergic reactions. We take special precautions to reduce the risk of significant reactions. Patients receiving allergy injections should wait 20 minutes after each injection before leaving the premises. It is best to have the injection site “checked” before leaving. Should a reaction develop at the site of the injection after leaving the office, please notify the office personnel so that the appropriate steps may be taken to reduce the likelihood of future reactions.
Does my insurance pay for allergy shot treatment? How much does it cost?
Each patient’s insurance company’s policy is different. It is very important that you call your insurance company with questions about coverage for injections, vaccine, follow-up visits, and testing. Allergy serums (vials) are billed to insurance company. Our friendly staff will review potential costs of the allergy shots with you before you decide to enroll in the allergy immunotherapy program. Be sure to always give our office updated insurance information or changes.