Allergy Shots (Subcutaneous Immunotherapy/SCIT)
Immunotherapy (commonly called allergy shots) is a form of treatment to reduce how sensitive a person is to specific allergens. Immunotherapy consists of a series of injections (shots) with a solution containing the allergens that cause your symptoms. Treatment usually begins with a weak solution given once or twice a week. The strength of the solution is gradually increased with each dose. Once the strongest dosage is reached, the injections are often given once a month to control symptoms. At that point a person has reached their maintenance level.
Though not technically a cure, allergy shots can significantly reduce allergy symptoms in some people who are unable to avoid allergens, would like to minimize the frequency of allergy medication use and who do not tolerate or respond well to allergy medications.
Allergy shots should always be given at your healthcare provider's office.
Research has shown that allergy shots can reduce symptoms of:
- Allergic rhinitis (hay fever)
- grass, weed and tree pollen allergies
- Allergic asthma
- Dust mites allergy
- Animal dander allergy
- Insect sting allergy
- Atopic dermatitis (eczema)
Allergy shots are less effective against molds and are not a useful method for the treatment of food allergy.
When to Consider Immunotherapy
If you are considering allergy shots, ask your healthcare provider about a referral to a board certified allergist. A board certified allergist will follow a number of steps to evaluate if allergy shots are right for you.
1. The allergist will ask you questions about your history, environment and symptoms. This will help determine if skin testing is needed. Prick skin testing may be done. This will help identify the specific allergens that are causing your symptoms. Skin testing should be done under the supervision of a board certified allergist.
2. Once an allergy has been identified, the next step is to decrease or eliminate exposure to the allergen. This is called environmental control. Evidence shows that allergy and asthma symptoms may improve over time, if the recommended environmental control changes are made. For example, following control measures for house dust mites and pet dander may decrease symptoms. Preventing your contact with grasses, weeds and tree pollen may be more difficult. Closing outside doors and windows and using air conditioning decreases exposure in the home.
3. Next, your healthcare provider may recommend medication. Antihistamines and nasal medications may be recommended. Allergy shots may be recommended for people with severe allergy symptoms. They may also be recommended for people with allergic asthma. Allergy shots can be particularly helpful when the problematic allergens cannot be avoided; people are experiencing complications from their allergic rhinitis including recurrent sinus infections or ear infections; people do not tolerate allergy medications or have found that despite their allergy medications, their symptoms remain uncontrolled. Allergy shots should be prescribed by a board certified allergist.
Length of Time
Six months to a year of allergy shots may be required before you notice any improvement in symptoms. If your symptoms do not improve after this time, ask you allergist to review your overall treatment program. If the treatment is effective, medical evidence indicates that the shots should continue for five years. In general, allergy shots should be stopped if they are not effective within two to three years.
There are a number of alternative treatments that claim to "cure" allergies. These methods are not supported by scientific studies, and they are not approved by the American Academy of Allergy and Immunology. Unapproved alternative treatments include:
- High-dose vitamin and mineral therapy
- Urine injections
- Bacterial vaccines
- Exotic diets
It can be easy to feel overwhelmed or confused by the many different methods of allergy testing and treatment. It is best to work with a board certified allergist to evaluate and determine what is appropriate for you.
Call 920-969-1768 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Mjaanes and find out what options are available for you.