If you are in the Salt Lake City Utah area and you can schedule an allergy doctor appointment or contact us with any of your allergy related questions.
An estimated one out of three Americans have allergies, yet very few ever find relief from anything other than the “quick fix” of popping pills. Medications can certainly prove invaluable in controlling allergy symptoms. Medications are life-saving in asthma and certain allergy conditions. But they are not the only way to deal with allergies or hay fever. Nor will they ever make the allergies “get better.”
Allergy shots, on the other hand, are about the closest thing there is to a “cure” for allergies. Allergy shots (or allergy immunotherapy) work like immunizations. A series of weekly allergy shots gradually build up the body’s resistance to allergies until you are symptom-free. At that point, most people can stop all or most of their allergy medications. And if you follow your allergy doctor’s maintenance program, you are allergy free for life.
Quick Facts about Immunotherapy (Allergy Shots)
• Immunotherapy will decrease or eliminate your need for allergy medications
• Before starting treatment, you’ll need an allergy test performed to pinpoint your specific allergies
• You’ll have weekly doctor visits (where you’ll get your shots) for 3-6 months
• It will take at least 6 months for treatment to fully work
• After the weekly doctor visits, you will need maintenance shots for 3-5 years about 1-2 times per month, with decreasing frequency
• Most insurance companies cover immunotherapy
• The first year of immunotherapy is the most expensive year; shots during the maintenance period are comparatively infrequent
• If you become pregnant while undergoing immunotherapy, you can continue with no problems
• You can’t start allergy shot therapy while you are pregnant
• Children over age 5 can have immunotherapy
• Seniors without serious medical problems (such as cardiac disease) can have immunotherapy
• Allergy immunotherapy is also referred to as allergy shots or allergy desensitization
What Specific Allergies do Allergy Shots treat?
Allergy Shots are helpful for relieving the symptoms of Allergic Rhinitis caused by most allergies. With the exception of food allergies and skin allergy conditions, allergy shots are a good choice for most allergies. Clinical trials have not shown benefits for people with food and skin allergies.
Immunotherapy will treat Allergic Rhinitis symptoms due to seasonal or year-round allergies—including sneezing, stuffy nose, runny nose, itchy eyes, irritated throat, ear pressure or popping.
Immunotherapy will treat these allergies:
• Hay Fever
• Weed pollens
• Tree pollens
• Grass pollens
• Mold spores
• Dust mites
• Pets, dog, cats, etc.
• Bee sting
• Hornets sting
• Yellow jacket sting
• Wasp sting
• Velvet ants bite
• Fire ants bite
Immunotherapy will not treat:
• food allergies
• skin dermatitis
• skin allergies
Time Commitment with Immunotherapy
Allergy shots involve an initial period of regular (weekly) doctor’s visits, followed by a period of occasional visits to maintain the therapeutic benefits of immunotherapy/allergy shots.
Build Up Phase
During the initial period of regular (weekly) doctor’s visits, where you are given the shots. This is considered the Build Up Phase, and lasts from 3-6 month.
At first, a small amount of allergen (a substance that your body has an allergic reaction to) is injected. Gradually, more of the allergen is injected as your body begins to build up a tolerance to the allergy.
As you continue with shots, it will take an increasingly higher concentration of, say, pollen to give you hay fever. You will experience fewer and fewer symptoms.
Once you reach a comfortable level and experience no symptoms from a normal amount of allergen exposure, you are put on maintenance. At this point— the Maintenance phase—most people can give up all allergy medications. You may need to have a few shots per year to maintain your allergy tolerance.
Can Seniors, kids, or Pregnant Women have allergy shots?
Seniors can benefit from allergy shots, and there is no age limit to when treatment can begin. Anyone wishing to avoid medication dependence is welcome. Individuals with certain medical conditions, such as cardiac disease, may not be advised to begin allergy shots / allergy immunotherapy treatment.
If you are pregnant, you are advised to wait until you have delivered your baby and are not nursing to begin allergy shots. However, if you have already started allergy shot/ immunotherapy treatment, you don’t need to stop if you become pregnant.
Children over the age of five can have allergy shots. Doctors in the U.S. have found that children under five are more likely to be uncooperative in the immunotherapy treatment process (which of course involves frequent shots).
Extra Perks for Kids
Children may have increased benefits from allergy shots, according to recent research cited by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Children who have allergy shots are less likely to develop asthma or other types of allergies.
A lowered risk of asthma is a significant benefit, as childhood asthma rates have risen so dramatically within the last 30 years. A few years ago, 9 percent of children in the U.S. have Asthma, as compared with less than 2 percent of all children in the 1980’s.
The latest statistics show that now 12.7 percent of all children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with asthma. (for more information, see the National Health Interview Survey, at the National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/asthma at).
Most health insurance companies cover allergy shots, either in full or with a low co-pay. Your cost will differ from someone with different health insurance, or from someone who needs more or less shots during the initial phase. Your insurance company or your allergy doctor will be able to give you a realistic estimate for your personal allergy shot treatment plan.
The initial 3-5 month period of allergy shots can be costly up front, especially if you don’t have insurance. However, several recent studies indicate that allergy shots are cheaper in the long run than staying on allergy medications. This is more true now than ever, since many over-the-counter allergy medicines (such as Claritin) are no longer covered by insurance companies.
One study in Respiratory Reviews estimated the total average cost for the first year of allergy shots was about $800. The same study found that out-of-pocket expenses for treating allergies with allergy medications came to $1200. So during the first year, when allergy shots are the most expensive, patients still saved about $400 over other allergy management programs.
In the following years, the study showed that patients using allergy shots had even higher savings, since annual maintenance shots only cost $170 – $290 per year. The group using allergy medications had the much higher annual expenses of $1200 or more.
How Allergy Shots Work
To understand how allergy shots (allergy immunotherapy) work, let’s look at what happens when you have an allergy attack.
Allergens are all around us. We come into contact with them every day, but not all of them set off allergy symptoms. These allergens (such as pollen, dust, pets, molds, stinging insects, and certain foods) are actually harmless. Most people don’t react to them.
But, if you have allergies, your body perceives the allergens as harmful invaders, and the immune system overreacts by attacking them. This attack makes your body release the chemical called histamine, which is responsible for undesirable allergy symptoms. The release of histamine in the body causes congestion, sneezing, itchy eyes, a stuffy or runny nose, and ear popping and discomfort.
Allergy shots work at gradually building up the body’s tolerance to a particular allergen. Eventually, the body’s allergic response is blocked, and histamine is not released. With no histamine in the system, there are no symptoms left. And you feel a lot better.
Allergy immunotherapy is a process wherein allergens are strategically introduced to the body to instigate a prophylactic or therapeutic effect within the immune system. There have been many studies and empiric trials of immunotherapy which support it’s effectiveness as an allergy treatment. Generally, medical practitioners choose to treat allergy symptoms and/or reduce allergic reactions with standard medications. However with immunotherapy, the ultimate goal is to reduce the immune system’s sensitivity to particular allergens, thereby effectively eliminating the allergy altogether. Although immunotherapy is not effective in all patient’s, and is only partially effective in others, it does give the hope of eventually being able to reduce or discontinue use of medication allergies. Immunotherapy is usually reserved for those with severe allergies that drastically impair quality of life. For instance, it may not be possible to function with multiple allergies to mold, dust, pet dander, and other common allergens that are generally unavoidable. Immunotherapy is not generally indicated for food allergies, nor is it used for medication allergies. It does seem to be particularly beneficial for those who suffer from allergic rhinitis or asthma flares.
If you qualify for allergy immunotherapy, a qualified allergy specialist can design a specialized program specific to your needs. There are two types of allergy immunotherapy. The first and most common treatment includes a series of shots administered over a four to five year period. The preferred location for these shots is in the back of the upper arm between the elbow and shoulder. These injections are, basically, an allergy extract or extremely diluted form of the offending allergen. Dosages are started small and are given on a regular basis, usually weekly. The dosage progressively increases toward a maintenance level. It may take up to six months of weekly injections to reach the desired maintenance dose. After this level is reached, injections will be given every two to three weeks on a regular basis. Eventually treatments are reduced to once per month over a course of several years. Over time, the body becomes desensitized to the particular allergen. As a general rule, the higher the dose and the longer the treatment, the better the results will be.
Although allergies cannot currently be cured, immunotherapy can reduce the severity of symptoms, decrease the need for chronic medication usage, and improve quality of life. In some cases, immunotherapy will reduce but not eliminate allergic symptoms. In these instances, allergy medications may still be required to keep symptoms under control. An additional benefit to immunotherapy is the possibility that it may prevent the development of further allergic triggers.
It is best to start immunotherapy as soon after the development of an allergy as possible. Evidence is strong that immunotherapy in children can prevent the development of new allergic responses later in life. Unfortunately, it may be difficult to convince a child that the benefits of immunotherapy outweigh the discomfort of the injections. Although immunotherapy has been shown to be effective in both children and adults, it is not generally recommended for the elderly due to the fact that age can reduce the ability to cope with possible side effects.
The study of immunotherapy has been ongoing since the early 1900’s. The basic idea behind immunotherapy is that by introducing progressively larger doses of a particular antigen into the body, the body will eventually build up a tolerance to the offending allergen and will have little to no symptoms when the allergen is encountered. Techniques and skills have advanced to the point that genetically engineered allergen extracts are being formulated to increase the effectiveness and decrease potential risks of immunotherapy. Because immunotherapy involves introduction of the offending allergen into the body, each person who is treated by immunotherapy will have a different treatment regimen and schedule. This is based on individual allergic responses and allergy profiles.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), allergy immunotherapy is successful in up to 90% of patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis. It is also effective in up to 80% of patients suffering from perennial allergic rhinitis. Although adverse reactions are rare, they have been reported in a small number of patients receiving immunotherapy treatments. For this reason injections should only be administered under the care of a qualified physician. Additionally, some studies have shown an increased risk of adverse reaction in patients who are taking beta-blockers. Therefore, it is not recommended that those taking beta-blockers engage in a course of immunotherapy. Any medications which a patient may be taking should be discussed with the allergist before commencing allergy immunotherapy. Additionally, it is recommended that exercise and excessive heat be avoided for one to two hours before and after administration of immunotherapy. You will also need to wait for 20-30 minutes after an injection to insure that an anaphylactic reaction does not occur. You should receive specific instructions for your situation from your immunologist or healthcare professional.
Though costs may vary, a five year cost analysis comparing immunotherapy injections vs allergy medications was done by AAAAI in 2000 with the finding that long term medication treatment was more expensive than immunotherapy.
Allergy immunotherapy is a safe and effective treatment option for many allergies. Those suffering from chronic allergy symptoms would find probable benefit in discussing the pros and cons of allergy immunotherapy with their doctor.
Sources: www.wikipedia.com, www.AAAI.org, www.aafp.org
Disclaimer: The allergy information on this website is strictly general information and should not be taken as official advice. Please schedule an appointment with an allergy doctor in order to get a proper and full allergy diagnosis.
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