Other Treatments for Allergic RhinitisEn Español (Spanish Version)
A common treatment for allergic rhinitis is immunotherapy, which is often called allergy shots.
Allergy Shots (Immunotherapy)
Immunotherapy is often recommended for people who have developed severe side effects from medication, or whose allergy symptoms do not respond well to medication. It may also be helpful for people who have frequent, unavoidable exposure to allergens. Studies have shown that immunotherapy is effective in approximately 80%-90% of people who receive the treatment consistently.
The purpose of immunotherapy is to desensitize your response to a particular allergen or group of allergens. This is done by injecting a very tiny extract of the allergen into the skin, and increasing the dose very gradually at regular intervals until the immune response to that allergen is decreased or eliminated. When you are exposed to an allergen in this way, your body begins to make some protective antibodies. Since the allergen dose starts out very small, you don’t experience the usual symptoms despite exposure to the allergen.
How the Process Works
Initially, you will be given shots of weakened solutions of allergen extracts 1-2 times per week. As you continue with the shots, the doses will be made progressively stronger. In about 5-6 months, your doses will be at the most concentrated level, called the “maintenance” level.
Once your injections are at maintenance level, the frequency of injections will be reduced to every 2-4 weeks. Your doctor will monitor your immune response periodically with skin testing. Treatment will continue for 3-5 years until your allergic response has been significantly reduced or eliminated.
Immunotherapy is a treatment program that may take 3-5 years to complete. If you are considering this form of treatment, you will need to make a commitment to receive these injections on a regular schedule. If you miss one or more treatments, there is a risk that your allergen immunity will be compromised, and you may need to begin the process again.
On occasion, some people experience a localized reaction to the shot, which may consist of itching, redness, or a small hive at the injection site. These symptoms usually disappear within 1-2 hours.
In very rare instances, a systemic reaction may occur. This might produce symptoms—such as sneezing; itching of the eyes, throat, hands, or feet; or asthma. This type of reaction would occur within twenty minutes of the shot, so your doctor will have you wait at least 20 minutes after receiving an injection to assure there is no reaction.
Who Should Not Have Immunotherapy
Immunotherapy is not recommended for people who are taking beta-blocker medications. These drugs are usually prescribed for people who have high blood pressure or heart rhythm problems. You may also be advised not to undergo immunotherapy if you have a weakened immune system, uncontrolled asthma, severe lung disease, severe reactions to allergy skin testing, or you are currently wheezing.
Researchers are still studying if it is safe for pregnant women to start allergy shots. But, it is safe for pregnant women to continue their maintenance treatment.
When to Contact Your Doctor
Notify your doctor immediately if you have:
- Changes in your allergy reaction
- Adverse reactions to the injection
- Changes in medications prescribed by another doctor
Advice from your allergist: Rhinitis. American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology website. Available at: http://www.acaai.org/public/advice/rhin.htm. Accessed September 15, 2008.
Allergic rhinitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated September 2008. Accessed September 15, 2008.
Last reviewed July 2008 by Elie Edmond Rebeiz, MD, FACS
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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