Allergy shots, or allergen immunotherapy, is a treatment option for patients who suffer with symptoms of allergic rhinitis (hay fever), allergic conjunctivitis (eye symptoms), allergic asthma, eczema and venom allergy. The shots can produce significant relief in symptoms such as sneezing, nasal congestion, cough, nasal drainage and itchy eyes.
Allergy shots work like a vaccine. By administering increasing amounts of allergen to the immune system, the shots desensitize the body to specific allergy triggers, such as pollen, dust, mold and animal dander. This process leads to tolerance and unresponsiveness when exposed to allergens and may even lead to long-term relief years after completing a course of immunotherapy.
A course of immunotherapy requires two phases: build-up and maintenance. The build-up phase of allergy shots typically takes four to six months of weekly allergy shots with increasing amounts of allergens. The maintenance phase begins when the most effective dose is reached and is administered every two to four weeks for a period of three to five years.
Allergy shots are recommended for those patients who continue to suffer from allergens despite use of medications or for those who desire to avoid long-term medication use. Allergy shots are typically well-tolerated and can be started in patients as young as 5 years old. The shots may also prevent asthma and the development of new allergies.