Do Allergy Shots Have Side Effects?
Allergy shots (i.e., allergy immunotherapy, allergy desensitization, allergy injections, allergy hyposensitization) have been used to treat allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis, and/or asthma for over 100 years. Allergy serum (i.e., allergy vaccines) consist of proteins extracted from naturally occurring biological substances such as pollens, animal dander, molds, dust mites, cockroaches, etc. A few chemicals are also added to stabilize these extracts. These proteins in these allergy serums are what makes the allergy shots so effective for allergic individuals.
Allergy immunotherapy involves exposing the individual’s immune system to gradually increasing doses of these proteins, to which he or she has been previously sensitized. This gradual increase in dose and concentration of these protein allergens allows the allergic individual to form “blocking” antibodies that help prevent the allergen from binding to other antibodies. This prevents the subsequent release of chemical mediators such as histamine that typically cause allergy symptoms.
There are two types of adverse reactions possible during allergy immunotherapy:
- Local reactions: Small swellings (i.e., generally less than the size of a pea) at the site of injections are common. They usually appear within a few minutes of the injection and typically subside spontaneously in an hour or two and are generally not very bothersome. Sometimes, these swellings increase in size over a few hours, turn red, and can be associated with itching. These reactions can occasionally last for a few days. The discomfort can be reduced by application of ice and using anti-inflammatory medications (e.g., Advil, Motrin, ibuprofen, Aleve) and/or antihistamines (e.g., Benadryl, Claritin, Allegra, Zyrtec).
- Systemic or generalized reactions: These are uncommon. They may begin within a few minutes of the injection and can progress rapidly. The symptoms can vary from generalized itching, hives, swellings, and/or nausea, to name a few. Very rarely they can lead to serious life-threatening reactions causing systemic symptoms which may include wheezing, shortness of breath, and/or a drop in blood pressure. These are more likely to happen within the first 30 minutes of an injection. Hence, individuals receiving allergen immunotherapy are monitored for 30 minutes in the allergist’s office so that the reactions can be recognized early and treated promptly.
Though introduction of infection through the injection site is a theoretical possibility, not a single case has ever been reported in the U.S. in over 100 years. In addition, bleeding and local scarring may occur but are not common unless there is an underlying medical illness in that individual.
The board certified allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy have been administering allergy shots to allergic individuals for more than 50 years in the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area. They are effective in 80-85% of patients and are advantageous in that they get to the “root” of the problem as opposed to medications that only treat the symptoms. Oral, nasal, and ocular allergy medications also may cause side effects and typically patients develop a tolerance to these medications making them become ineffective or less effective over time. Given the potential uncommon systemic risk of allergy shots, they are used extensively in the field of allergy and immunology as they are very efficacious in the treatment of allergic rhinitis (i.e., hay fever), allergic conjunctivitis (i.e., eye allergies), and asthma. Black & Kletz Allergy has 3 convenient office locations in the DC metro area, all with on-site parking. We have offices in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA), and Manassas, VA). The Washington, DC and McLean, VA offices are Metro accessible. The Washington, DC office is close to both the Farragut West and Farragut North metro stations and the McLean, VA office is close to the Spring Hill metro station on the silver line. We offer a free shuttle that runs between our McLean, VA office and the Spring Hill metro station. If you have any questions about allergy shots, please call us for a consultation as we are always happy to educate anyone who may be experiencing allergy or asthma symptoms. Alternatively, you can click Request an Appointment and we will respond within 24 hours by the next business day.