What are allergy injections?

Allergy injections (also called immunotherapy) contain solutions of natural substances in very small quantities, such as grasses, trees, weeds, dust, mold, animal dander and feathers. These solutions are injected into the arm in increasingly higher concentration and/or higher doses. They allow the body to build tolerance to these specific allergens. Usually a patient reaches the top dose (maintenance dose) in about 4-6 months.

What if I do not want allergy injections?

Most people do not need allergy injections. Once they understand the underlying cause of their allergies, they learn how to control their symptoms with avoidance and medication. Injections are usually reserved for those where avoidance is impossible, where medication does not work or causes side effects, or where a person wants to "build up" his/her immunity.

Does everyone receive the same mixture of allergens?

Although general allergen mixtures are available, most allergists customize the extracts to reflect each person's particular allergies. In this way, the contents and dose can be tailored to more closely reflect each person's needs. The disadvantage of using a custom mix is that it takes longer time to prepare compared to ready-made mixes. However, waiting for a custom mix may be worthwhile because each person has different allergies and is better treated according to the results of the allergy tests.

Are there drugs in the injections?

Immunizing injections contain no chemicals or drugs, however they may contain a preservative. They are made from extracts of natural substances such as plants, animal dander, mold and feathers. This does not make them harmless, as the body can have reactions to the solution. Potential side effects include local swelling and/or itching, itchy eyes, and swelling in the throat. Rarely there can be more generalized reactions, such as itching, hives, and tightness in the chest. It is important to receive allergy shots in a doctor's office and to wait the required time to insure that the patient is within reach of medical help in the case there are any adverse effects.

Do not be confused! Many so-called "allergy injections" contain cortisone or steroid type drugs which only treat the symptoms, do not change the underlying cause. These medications can build up in the system where they can cause cataracts and osteoporosis (soft bones). The immunizing injections that are described above do not contain such drugs.

How long is the injection program?

The program begins with build-up steps. You may start with injections two times a week until a maintenance level is reached. At maintenance, injections are then slowly spread out to every four or six weeks. Most people notice improvement during the first year. Injections continue for three to five years to try to achieve long-term benefit.

Adapted from A Patient's Practical Guide to Allergies and Asthma, 1999

By the California Society of Allergy Asthma & Immunology

 

Central Coast Allergy & Asthma

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