Do you dread the time of year when you can actually see the pollen dust on your car? Do you love animals but hate the sneezing and tissue hoarding that goes along with having pets? For some allergy sufferers, immunotherapy (or, allergy shots, as they are commonly known) is a great option to make life more comfortable and enjoyable.
Immunotherapy has been around for over 100 years. The concept is simple: by injecting small amounts of the allergens that trigger you, your body builds up an immune response. With long term treatment, allergic reactions tend to lessen as your body is already “used to” those allergens.
The first allergic tests were, in a word, horrifying. Dr. Charles Blackley experimented on himself by placing grass pollen in his nose. Not surprisingly, his nostril became completed congested and he was unable to breathe through it. Nowadays, allergy tests are slightly more humane. With a “scratch test”, small drops of allergens are placed on a patient’s arms or back. The skin is lightly scratched to determine if there is a reaction. Your doctor may also conduct an intradermal test – small amounts of allergens are injected between the layers of the skin. After a short waiting period (usually about 15 minutes), the doctor observes the reactions and generates your own personal list of things that make you sneeze, itch, and swell. Prior to allergy testing, patients must suspend anti-histamine use in order to yield the most accurate results.
After allergy testing, lab technicians in fancy white coats create an allergy extract that is tailored to you. Allergy injections start with a build-up phase of tiny amounts of the extract. You may also experience redness and swelling at the injection site. With time, the extracts become stronger and allergic reactions are reduced. This process is called desensitization. Eventually, you will reach a maintenance dosage. Your doctor will determine how long you need to continue receiving maintenance injections.
How can you determine if allergy shots are right for you? Make an appointment with a physician that is certified by The American Board of Allergy and Immunology. Your allergist will review your symptoms and previous courses of treatment to determine if you are a good candidate for immunotherapy. You’ll want to ask your doctor about the time commitment to immunotherapy. Injections are given in-office and there is generally a waiting period of 30 minutes after the shots are given. Immunotherapy patients generally receive injections once or twice a week. Decide whether you can work regular allergy shots into your schedule.