The allergy shot used to be a weekly ritual for countless kids and plenty of adults, too.
These days, though, weekly shots have become less common as medications have become more effective. But allergy shots continue to be appropriate for some people.
Here's what you should know about them.
1. ALLERGY SHOTS TREAT SOME ALLERGIES, BUT NOT ALL
Allergy shots are designed to treat asthma and nasal allergies, and can be used to treat people who are allergic to bee and wasp stings, said Dr. Daniel Mayer, an allergist and clinical immunologist in Smithtown.
On the other hand, said Dr. Paul Lusman, an allergy specialist in Port Jefferson and an attending physician at St. Charles Hospital, "We don't usually give shots for skin problems, and nobody should be taking injections for food allergy." If you're allergic to a food, like peanuts, he said, the best way to prevent problems is to avoid the food.
2. ALLERGY SHOTS ARE DESIGNED TO TREAT MODERATE TO SEVERE SYMPTOMS
The shots work by helping the body's immune system develop tolerance to irritants so it won't overreact when it encounters, say, pet dander or dust mites.
"They're appropriate if your lifestyle is altered enough -- you aren't happy, and you're suffering, even with medication and trying to avoid things like dust mites and pets," Mayer said. With allergy shots, he said, people are "usually able to come off of most, if not all, of their medicines."
Allergy shots may get rid of your symptoms for good, but they take time.
Typically, people begin with weekly shots, and then the injections progressively become less frequent, Lusman said. The process takes quite a long time, however. Mayer said that many people don't begin feeling better until six to 12 months after they begin getting the shots.
"It's a big commitment," he said, "but most people get better, and they seem very satisfied." In fact, if you stick with the allergy shots for three to five years, he said, there's a good chance that your symptoms will disappear and not return.
4. ALWAYS GET INJECTIONS AT A DOCTOR'S OFFICE
Allergists typically require that people get their shots at a medical office instead of at home, and "nobody should offer you the possibility of self-injecting," Lusman said.
"You should always have a professional give your injection," he said. "Somebody should be available to manage a reaction. It doesn't matter how long you've been on injections; the possibility of reactions is always there. You could have anything from localized swelling to generalized hives to breathing problems, shock and death."
Lusman said it's extremely rare for someone to die from allergy shots. But people sometimes have reactions like redness, swelling and itching, he said.
5. IF YOU HAVE SEVERE ASTHMA, AN EXPENSIVE SHOT IS AVAILABLE
An injected medication known as omalizumab (Xolair) is available for asthma patients, Lusman said. "When it works, it is beyond wonderful," he said, but the process of giving injections is complicated. And the drug is extremely expensive, at about $1,800 or more for each of the one or two doses required each month, he said. Insurers may pay for it, he said, but only in cases of severe asthma.
Allergists and immunologists
This is the 11th installment of a 26-week series in which Newsday presents Castle Connolly's list of top Long Island doctors.
Dr. Mitchell Boxer
2001 Marcus Ave.
Dr. Russell Cancellieri
596 Hampton Rd.
Dr. Robert Corriel
1129 Northern Blvd.
Dr. Bruce Edwards
700 Old Country Rd.
Dr. Luz Fonacier
120 Mineola Blvd.
Dr. Marianne Frieri
Dr. Stanley Goldstein
242 Merrick Rd.
Dr. Louis Guida Jr.
Bay Shore Allergy &
Asthma Specialty Practice
649 Montauk Hwy.
West Bay Shore
Dr. Paul Lang
One Hollow Lane
Dr. Paul Lusman
120 North Country Rd.
Dr. Sharon Markovics
1129 Northern Blvd.
Dr. Daniel Mayer
263 E. Main St.
Dr. Brian Novick
30 Newbridge Rd.
Dr. Michael Steven Richheimer
1855 Union Blvd.
724 Park Ave. E.
Dr. Steven Satnick
900 Main St.
Dr. Marc Sicklick
123 Grove Ave.
Dr. Gary Weinstock
310 E. Shore Rd.
How they were picked
Castle Connolly Medical Ltd. is a health care research and information company founded in 1991 by a former medical college board chairman and president to help guide consumers to America's top doctors and hospitals. Castle Connolly's established survey and research process, under the direction of a doctor, involves tens of thousands of doctors and the medical leadership of leading hospitals.
Castle Connolly's team of researchers follows a rigorous screening process to select doctors on national and regional levels. Using mail and telephone surveys, and electronic ballots, they ask physicians and the leadership of top hospitals to identify exceptional doctors. Careful screening of doctors' educational and professional experience is essential to the committee. Not every good physician makes the list. Rather, the list is a way for patients to get started on their search for the best medical professional. Newsday is not part of the selection process.
Doctors do not and cannot pay to be selected and profiled as Castle Connolly Top Doctors.
To see the whole list . . .
Who else is on the list of Top Doctors? More than 6,000 listings are in the New York Metro Area edition of "Top Doctors," published by Castle Connolly Medical Ltd. The softcover list price is $34.95. For more information, go to castleconnolly.com, or call 800-399-DOCS.