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The Benefits Of Allergy Shots

Jul 25, 2008
Immunotherapy, if properly managed, can significantly reduce allergy symptoms. In some people, it greatly reduces the need for allergy medication.

These effects become noticeable 6-12 months after starting the therapy. Most people notice continued gradual improvement over the next 2-4 years. By years 3-5, most people are desensitized to their allergen or allergens. Many can stop immunotherapy at that point.

There are several things you can do to increase the success of the therapy. Make a commitment to follow your allergist's recommendations to the letter. Follow through with the entire course of treatment recommended. If you stop half way through, the treatment will not work.

Continue to avoid the allergens as much as possible. Just because you complete a course of immunotherapy for your allergy to pet dander doesn't mean you can now go out and get a cat. Immunotherapy is much less likely to work if you do not continue to avoid your allergens.

An allergic reaction is the body's way of responding to an "invader." When the body senses a foreign substance, called an antigen, the immune system is triggered. The immune system normally protects the body from harmful agents such as bacteria and toxins. Its overreaction to a harmless substance (an allergen) is called a hypersensitivity, or allergic, reaction.

In rare cases, an allergic reaction can be life threatening (see Anaphylaxis). Each year in the United States, over 400 people die from allergic reactions to penicillin, and over 50 people die from allergic reactions to bee and fire ant stings.

Most allergic reactions are much less serious, such as a rash from poison ivy or sneezing from hay fever. The reaction depends on the person but is sometimes unpredictable.

Generally, medication is the treatment of choice after the allergen is removed. For more information on removing environmental allergies from your home, see Allergy-proof your home.

Very severe reactions may require other therapy, such as oxygen for breathing difficulties or intravenous fluids to boost blood pressure in anaphylactic shock. Patients with very severe reactions usually require hospitalization. Allergy shots are given to some people who have persistent and disruptive allergy symptoms.

The shots do not treat symptoms, but by altering the immune response they prevent future reactions. This is referred to as immunotherapy. Treatment involves a series of shots, each containing a slightly greater amount of the antigen(s) that cause the reaction. Ideally, the person will become desensitized to the antigen(s) over time. The effectiveness of shots varies by individual.

Immunotherapy is the name for a treatment used by allergy specialists (allergists) to reduce sensitivity to allergens. This therapy is particularly useful for people with allergic rhinitis (sometimes called hay fever).

Immunotherapy involves a series of injections (shots) given regularly for several years. In the past, this was called a serum, but this is an incorrect name. Most allergists now call this mixture an allergy extract. The first shots contain very tiny amounts of the antigen or antigens to which you are allergic. With progressively increasing dosages over time, your body will adjust to the antigen and become less sensitive to it. This process is called desensitization.
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