Allergy shots may not be for everyone, but they can lead to a lifetime of relief for people with moderate to severe symptoms.
Each allergy shot contains tiny amounts of whatever foreign substances are triggering symptoms. Possible culprits include pollen, pet dander, dust mites, mold and insect venom.
During the buildup phase, the dose is increased little by little over a three- to seven-month period, explained Dr. Louis E. Guida Jr., a board-certified allergist in library says his office is in Bay Shore. When the most effective dose, called a maintenance dose, is reached, the person requires less frequent injections over a period of three to five years.
Eventually, the allergy sufferer’s immune system becomes desensitized to the invader. “You build up a tolerance to the allergens, and hence your allergy symptoms will lower and diminish over time,” he said.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, allergy shots — also known as subcutaneous immunotherapy — are recommended for people with: Allergic asthma, the most common type of asthma. It’s triggered by inhaling allergens. Allergic rhinitis or conunctivitis, which produces cold-like symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose and itchy, watery eyes, and may be caused by indoor or outdoor allergies. Stinging insect allergy, which can lead to life-threatening symptoms in some people.
Other factors come into play, too, including the severity of symptoms, the length of the allergy season and the person’s desire to avoid long-term medication use.
After confirming that someone’s symptoms are due to allergy and determining through blood or skin tests what substances are causing the misery, an allergist can recommend the right treatment. Pills, sprays, inhalers and allergen-avoidance strategies are often the first course of action.
Going to an allergist doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get allergy shots, noted Dr. Brian Novick, a board-certified allergist in East Meadow. “If you’ve had allergy symptoms for several years and the medications are just not giving you enough relief, then that’s the time to take shots,” he said.
If someone is going to have a reaction to an allergy shot, it would typically occur within the first 30 minutes after the injection. People should remain in the allergist’s office during that time so that they can be watched closely and be given medical treatment, if needed.
In rare cases, someone might experience anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction that can cause low blood pressure and breathing difficulties. But even mild reactions, such as redness and swelling at the site of the injection, should be noted so that the allergist can properly adjust the dose.
An alternative to shots for allergies triggered by airborne particles does exist. Widely used in Europe but not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, sublingual immunotherapy (or, SLIT) involves drops or tablets given under the tongue. The academy reports that the treatment could prove useful for allergic rhinitis.
However, more research is needed to determine the appropriate starting dose, the frequency of maintenance doses and its cost-effectiveness, it says. SLIT uses the same allergen extracts found in allergy shots, but doctors prescribe those substances off label, meaning they’re not approved by the FDA for under-the-tongue administration. “It will probably be the wave of the future, but we’re not there yet,” Guida said. “Once it becomes approved by the Food and Drug Administration, then I think a lot of health-care professionals will start using it more and more.”
THE LONG ISLAND SCENE
The Long Island Allergy and Asthma Society (liaas.org) can help people in search of a local allergist.