What are Allergy Shots?

What are Allergy Shots?

The term “allergy” refers to a condition where one’s immune system develops a sensitivity to a substance and reacts adversely when exposed to it.  Allergy shots (i.e., allergy immunotherapy, allergy injections, allergy desensitization, allergy hyposensitization) is a treatment modality which helps the immune system “learn” to tolerate an allergen and not react when exposed to it.

The process involves exposing the immune system to an allergen, beginning with a very small amount and gradually escalating the dose at regular intervals.  It entails injecting the protein extracted from the allergenic substance (i.e., allergen, antigen) under the skin with a small needle.  A very small dose is given initially and incremental doses are administered at weekly or biweekly intervals under close monitoring.  In the case of any local reactions, subsequent doses are either kept the same or adjusted downwards to in order to mitigate further reactions.  In the unlikely event of a systemic reaction, doses are decreased in order to prevent future reactions.

Although an allergic individual may be sensitive to multiple indoor and outdoor allergens, the antigens can be mixed together in a vial, so that they can be administered in one or two injections each time. After approximately 18 “build-up” doses are given, the individual then begins a “maintenance dose” schedule (i.e., without further dose escalation).  The maintenance doses may be given anywhere from every 3 days to 4 weeks, depending on the patient’s needs.  Some individuals at this point will receive an injection either every 1, 2, 3, or 4 weeks.  Others will increase the frequency of their allergy injection during their “bad allergy season(s)” (i.e., Spring, Fall).

In essence, allergy immunotherapy is a desensitization process that helps the allergic individual develop tolerance to the substance(s) he or she has been previously sensitized to.  Whereas most allergy medications mask the symptoms of allergies, allergy shots address the underlying cause and modulate the immune response.  This results in an increased resistance to the offending allergens.  This process is analogous to immunizations with bacterial and viral products which help individuals resist infections with those microbes.

Several well designed and controlled studies have demonstrated that allergy shots are the most efficient and cost-effective way to treat allergic rhinitisallergic conjunctivitis, and allergic asthma.  Research demonstrates that 80 to 85% of people receiving allergy immunotherapy will notice a substantial improvement in their symptoms.  In addition, their medication need will be significantly less over the long term.

Allergy shots are even more effective for insect sting allergies (i.e., venom immunotherapy, venom desensitization).  It is 97 to 99% effective in reducing the risks of life-threatening anaphylactic reactions to insect stings.  Venom immunotherapy has been the standard of care for individuals allergic to stinging insect venoms for the past several decades.  The most common insects used for venom immunotherapy include honey bees, wasps, yellow jackets, white-faced hornets, yellow-faced hornets, and fire ants.

Immunotherapy is currently being researched as a possible treatment modality for various food allergies.  The preliminary results of studies regarding immunotherapy with peanuts are very encouraging.  Although there is currently no FDA-approved protocol for immunotherapy for food allergies, it is hoped that we can offer this treatment to individuals with food allergies in the near future.

For now, the most effective treatment is to avoid the food and any cross-reacting foods.

The board certified allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy have been diagnosing and treating allergies and asthma in the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area for more than 50 years.  We treat both pediatric and adult patients.  We are well versed in allergy immunotherapy as we have decades and decades of experience in making and administering allergy extracts for the treatment of allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis, and allergic asthma.  Black & Kletz Allergy also tests individuals for insect sting allergies and treats them accordingly with venom immunotherapy.  We have offices in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA), and Manassas, VA.  All 3 locations have on-site parking and the Washington, DC and McLean offices are Metro accessible.  We offer a free shuttle that runs between our McLean, VA office and the Spring Hill metro station on the silver line.  To make an appointment, please call or alternatively you may click Request an Appointment and we will respond within 24 hours by the next business day.  The allergy doctors at Black & Kletz are very amenable to any questions you may have and pride themselves in providing state-of-the-art allergy and asthma care in a friendly and professional environment.