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Allergy Shots

Allergy shots are a highly effective treatment for allergic rhinitis and insect allergy. They are also be helpful in carefully selected cases of asthma. After a complete examination—including allergy testing—your physician will order the vaccine you need. This vaccine consists of small quantities of the same substances to which you are allergic. Each time you receive an injection, your immune system increases its ability to tolerate those substances. Over time, your allergy symptoms will decrease.

Vaccines are custom-made, taking into consideration each individual patient's medical history, skin test reactions, allergic exposures, etc. Several dilutions of the vaccine are made and treatment is started with a small volume of the lowest concentration. With succeeding injections, both the amount and the strength of the vaccine are progressively increased until a maintenance dose has been reached. The time it takes to reach a maintenance level varies but is usually achieved in 20 to 30 injections. At first, injections are given frequently. The frequency is decreased once the maintenance dose has been reached.

In general, when beginning allergy injections you should commit yourself to a period of three years. Please bear in mind that while allergy vaccine treatment may be required for a long time, the inconvenience of frequent injections lasts only a few weeks. Gradually, the frequency is reduced. Discontinuation of allergy injections is advised when you have had complete freedom from allergy symptoms for one whole year or when you have received continuous injections for at least three years.

Side Effects: As with any medical treatment, allergy injections are not without side effects. Two types of reactions can occur.

Local Reactions: Common reactions consist of redness, swelling, or itching at the site of the injection. Ice packs on the site will help as will an extra dose of antihistamine at bed time. Be sure to let the nurse know you had a reaction the next time you come in for your allergy shot so she can adjust your dose.

General Reactions: More uncommon are generalized itching, hives, wheezing, or extreme weakness. Rarely, serious symptoms may occur within the first few minutes after an injection. In such an event, alert the office staff. If you are not in the office, you should take an antihistamine, go to the nearest emergency room, and tell them that you are having a reaction to an allergy shot.

Because of the possibility, however small, of a generalized reaction you are advised to stay in the office for 15 minutes after your injection. All reactions should be reported to the office staff before your next injection.