October 2021

Side Effects of Allergy Shots

Are allergy shots worth it?

Allergy shots help the body learn to stop seeing allergens as a threat.

Otherwise known as subcutaneous immunotherapy, these injections contain a small dosage of allergens. Over time, the immune system will become used to these allergens and stop releasing histamines, which are the root cause of uncomfortable allergy symptoms.

What types of allergies does immunotherapy work on?

Allergy immunotherapy may help treat the root cause of several types of allergies. One of the best benefits of allergy shots is that you may be able to treat several allergies at one time with this type of immunotherapy.

The most common allergies treated with allergy shots may include animal, environmental and seasonal allergies.

Animal Allergies

Common animal allergies may include pest, farm animal and pet allergies.

Pets, such as cats, dogs, hamsters, lizards and other animals that shed skin may trigger allergy symptoms. In addition to being allergic to animal fur or hair, many patients are also allergic to the dander (dead skin cells) that animals shed as well as its saliva and excrement.

Non-pets, such as pests, may include rodents and insects — both of which may live in or around homes. One of the most common pest allergens is dust mites that live in dust (which is another common allergen).

Environmental Allergies

Environmental allergies may strike any time any place — depending on your environment. These allergies are caused by environmental triggers, such as animals, dust, mold, fungus and pollution.

Unlike seasonal allergies, environmental allergens aren’t released by the changing of the seasons. Instead, they may be caused by other environmental factors, such as humid or moist weather or environments, air quality and more.

Seasonal Allergies

Seasonal allergies are some of the most common allergies. These allergies strike when a particular plant is blooming.

Spring allergies, for example, are usually caused by an influx of pollen in the air (especially tree pollen). Common summer allergens may include mold, fungus and ragweed, and common fall allergies may include mold and fungus — thanks to autumn rain.

Your seasonal allergies may be worse in the spring, summer, or fall, depending on the area of the country you live in.

All of the above allergies may be treated with allergy immunotherapy, including allergy shots. Doctors may even be able to customize an allergy injection to contain trace amounts of several different allergens, possibly preventing the cause of many allergies at once.

Benefits of Allergy Shots

Allergy shots treat the cause of allergies — not just the symptoms. Unlike with steroids or antihistamines, patients may not need to continue allergy shots indefinitely to manage symptoms. The most common reason to get allergy shots is a reduction of allergy symptoms, leading to lower doses of other allergy medications.

Reduced Allergy Symptoms

Most patients see a reduction of allergy symptoms after six months of allergy immunotherapy injections. It may take up to a few years to see a major decrease in allergy symptoms.

No Need to Take High Doses of Allergy Medication

Many patients are able to lower their doses of antihistamines and steroids, and some patients may be able to stop taking over-the-counter allergy medications altogether.

Treats the Root Cause of Symptoms

Antihistamines and steroids don’t treat the cause of allergies. Instead, they simply manage symptoms. This means they may not be able to effectively prevent allergy flare-ups completely.

Allergy immunotherapy treats the cause of allergies, which is the body’s reaction to allergens with histamine release.

How do I get allergy shots?

Allergy shots may sound like simple procedures, but they aren’t a “one-and-done” fix for allergy symptoms. Before getting allergy shots, you’ll need to get tested for specific allergies. Then, you’ll need to visit a medical professional up to once a week for buildup doses and once a month for maintenance doses.

Get tested for allergies

Before getting allergy shots, you’ll need to get tested for allergies; though, you may be able to do so through your doctor or allergist.

Medical professionals create an allergy immunotherapy cocktail that targets your specific allergies. This means your doctor will need to know which allergy immunotherapy microdoses to include in your treatment.

The good news is that medical professionals can treat more than one allergy at a time with allergy shots, meaning you won’t need to get one shot for each allergy.

Many allergists offer skin scratch tests in-office, where a small amount of an allergen will be inserted underneath the top layer of the skin to see if you experience a reaction. Up to 50 allergens may be tested at once!

Some doctors may write a referral for you to get a blood draw if they don’t offer skin scratch tests or if you suffer from a condition that affects your epidermis.

At-home allergy testing kits, such as Curex’s, are also available to test for many common allergies. These test kits may be mailed directly to your address and contain lancets to collect small blood drop samples. Simply mail the sample to the lab to get your results.

Make a consultation appointment

Once you know what you’re allergic to, you may make a consultation appointment with your doctor, allergist or another medical professional.

Depending on your doctor, you may need to make the appointment before getting an allergy test, or you may be able to just make an appointment for a consult if you’ve had an allergy test in the past two years.

Your doctor will explain the process, talk to you about which allergies are the source of your symptoms and help you make appointments. Some doctors may offer a consultation online or over the phone, while other medical professionals prefer to do this in person.

This is also when your doctor will let you know if you’re not a good candidate for allergy shots because of a history of anaphylaxis or other risk factors.

Visit your doctor for buildup doses

The buildup phase of allergy immunotherapy lasts up to one year or longer. This is the phase where your immune system begins building resistance to allergens.

You’ll visit your doctor up to several times a week to receive allergy shot doses. Your doctor may require you to remain in the office for up to 45 minutes after your allergy shot to monitor for side effects, including anaphylaxis.

Depending on how well your immune system responds to allergy shots, you may need to schedule buildup dose appointments for up to one year (or as long as two years).

Make appointments for maintenance doses

Maintenance doses allow the body to remember that allergens aren’t a threat to the system. If you don’t schedule maintenance doses, immunotherapy may not work as well — and you could start experiencing more severe symptoms the next time you come into contact with an allergen.

These doses need to be administered about once a month (depending on the severity of your allergies and how well your immune system has responded to the buildup phase), though every patient is different.

After a year or two, your doctor will let you know if and when you may be able to stop coming in for maintenance allergy shots.

Allergy Shot Side Effects

The most common side effects of allergy shots may include:

  • Contact dermatitis
  • Coughing
  • Hives
  • Sneezing

Anaphylaxis is also possible, and patients with a history of this condition may not be eligible for allergy shots.

Other Types of Allergy Immunotherapy

The good news is that there are other types of allergy immunotherapy, including sublingual immunotherapy.

This type of allergy immunotherapy is administered orally (usually underneath the tongue). Instead of administering the immunotherapy dose by injection, the patient may self-administer the dose orally.

Though doses are administered daily, this type of immunotherapy is less invasive, doesn’t usually require a trip to a doctor’s office and may be less likely to result in uncomfortable side effects — making it more attractive to many patients.

Benefits of Sublingual Immunotherapy

Treating allergies at their root cause offers allergy sufferers one large benefit: potential lessening of symptoms and lower doses of antihistamine and steroid allergy medications.

Yet, there are some benefits of sublingual immunotherapy that this type of treatment doesn’t share with its subcutaneous counterpart. A few of the main benefits of taking allergy immunotherapy treatments orally include fewer doctor’s appointments, potentially lower costs of treatments, fewer side effects and convenience.

Fewer Doctor’s Appointments

Most patients may need to visit a doctor’s or allergist’s office to receive allergy immunotherapy shot dosages. At first, patients generally make weekly visits, and some doctors recommend visiting at least one-to-three times a week.

At-home sublingual immunotherapy may be administered by the patient. Sometimes it’s recommended that the patient make a video or phone appointment with a medical professional for the first appointment if there’s any chance of side effects, though most patients may be able to bypass this step.

Fewer side effects mean fewer appointments at a doctor’s office and more time spent living your life. Freedom from allergies is the main reason to get immunotherapy in the first place, so why wouldn’t you want even more time to spend doing the activities you love?

May Cost Less

Depending on your health insurance plan, at-home allergy immunotherapy treatments may cost less than allergy shots.

Allergy shots may cost up to $3,000 for a several-year treatment plan. Many health insurance carriers cover the cost of these treatments, though not all do. Even if treatments are covered, you may need to meet your deductible before your insurance provider will pay out.

At-home sublingual immunotherapy may cost as low as $65 a month (depending on your healthcare provider). Telehealth allergy specialists often charge less than in-person ones, as they don’t need to cover the costs of a brick-and-mortar office.

Most of the fees are for allergy immunotherapy prescription itself.

Less Chance of Side Effects

Studies show that allergy shots may be associated with more side effects (or more severe side effects) than sublingual immunotherapy.

Not only may there be a greater chance of anaphylaxis with allergy shots, but some patients may also experience redness, soreness or irritation at the site of the injection.

Since sublingual immunotherapy may deliver smaller doses of an allergen on a daily basis (instead of weekly) underneath the tongue, there may be less of a chance of allergic reaction.

Patients that suffer from dermatitis or other skin conditions also won’t experience epidermal discomfort if treatments are administered underneath the tongue.

May Be Administered at Home

Since there is less risk of side effects with sublingual immunotherapy, you may not need to take doses under the supervision of a doctor. Instead, many patients self-administer doses at home themselves.

Taking allergy immunotherapy at home means less time commuting to and from a doctor’s office, less time waiting and more time enjoying your life.

No Needles

For anyone with a fear of needles, allergy shots may seem out of the realm of possibilities.

Not only do you need to get injections weekly (or more), but you may need to get a skin scratch test or blood draw to get tested for allergies beforehand.

Sublingual immunotherapy removes the need for needles from the equation. Patients may also be eligible to take an at-home allergy test kit that only requires a few drops of blood as a test sample.

There are plenty of benefits to sublingual immunotherapy, but that doesn’t mean this treatment is right for everyone. Make an appointment with a care manager to find out if you’re a good candidate for sublingual immunotherapy.

The Bottom Line: Are allergy shots worth it?

Allergy shots offer allergy sufferers a long list of benefits. Whether or not to get allergy shots or sublingual immunotherapy depends on the needs of the patient.

We at Curex love the results we see in our patients that get sublingual immunotherapy, and we also prefer symptom prevention methods that may come with fewer side effects.

If you want to know if you’re a good candidate for allergy immunotherapy, make an appointment with one of our care managers or take our allergy quiz today.


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