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Allergy Relief: Guide to Immunotherapy

Updated on February 17, 2017

Oral and intranasal allergy medications do not provide adequate relief for certain allergy sufferers, such as those suffering with severe allergies or for those suffering longer than three months out of the year.[1] Allergy shots, also known as immunotherapy, have provided some of these patients with a reduction in symptoms; however, this form of treatment is not a cure.


The Effectiveness of Immunotherapy

Patients typically undergo allergy skin testing prior to their first shot for definitive allergen substance reaction(s). Allergens that turn up positive on their testing will be included in their immunotherapy. Patients receive weekly incremental dosages, gradually increasing over time, allowing the immune system time to build a tolerance to each substance. Eventually, patients reach a maintenance dose; however, the time it takes before a maintenance dosage is achieved varies from patient-to-patient.

Immunotherapy is known to be effective in reducing various pollens, dust mites, stinging insects, pet dander, and mold allergies, including asthmatic allergies; however, allergy shots have not been shown to be a proven treatment in patients with food allergies or hives.[2] Patients do not necessarily have to get a shot. In certain cases, there is the option of taking under-the-tongue tablets but one should discuss this with their allergist.

Get on the phone and go to the nearest emergency room if you have shortness of breath, a tight throat, or any other symptoms that worry you after getting your shot.

— WebMD

Risks Associated with Immunotherapy

Allergy shots are not for everyone and may put those who take certain medications or suffer from certain diseases, such as lung or heart disease, at risk for complications. Patients should report all medications they are taking to their physician because some have the potential of treatment interference and/or producing adverse effects. Patients who are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant may be advised to hold off on treatment until after pregnancy.

Because anaphylactic shock is a possible risk of immunotherapy, allergy shot recipients are generally required to stay at their health care provider’s office for 20-30 minutes after their injection. Severe symptoms may not occur until after the patient has left the office. Therefore, some physicians prescribe an Epi-Pen for immediate relief of anaphylactic shock symptoms; emergent care must still be sought after self-injection. The following are possible symptoms associated with anaphylactic shock:

  • Tight throat;
  • Shortness of breath; and/or
  • Other allergic reactions.

Patients may experience mild symptoms, including irritation, redness, and/or swelling at the injection site, which may last upwards of eight hours after treatment; however, patients should report any side effects to their physician.[3]

What Patients Should Expect From Immunotherapy

The time between each allergy shot at a health care provider’s office can range anywhere from one to four weeks, over a span of two to five years. Therefore, potential recipients should be aware of the time commitment immunotherapy requires.

Immediate relief is generally not felt, although relief of some – or all – symptoms can be achieved, although the timeline varies from patient-to-patient.

If your symptoms don’t improve after a year of shots, talk with your doctor about other treatment options.

— WebMD


The information herein should be used for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of a health care provider when making a decision to proceed with immunotherapy. As with many treatments, there are risks involved. This treatment is not a cure and may not work for everyone.

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[1-3] WebMD website. Allergy Shots, Accessed February 17, 2017.


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