Allergies: Should I Take Allergy Shots?
You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.
Allergies: Should I Take Allergy Shots?
Get the facts
- Don't get allergy shots. Instead, keep taking medicine to control your symptoms, and try to get rid of or avoid the allergen.
- Get allergy shots along with taking medicine to control your symptoms.
Key points to remember
- There is no cure for allergic rhinitis or allergic asthma. But allergy shots may provide long-term relief of symptoms.
- Allergy shots will probably help you. They are effective for most people and can reduce symptoms if you are allergic to pollens, animal dander, dust mites, mold, or cockroaches.1 Allergy shots may prevent children with allergic rhinitis from getting asthma.1
- You need to take allergy shots for 3 to 5 years.
- You cannot be sure how long the shots will be effective after you stop getting them. For allergies to some grasses, shots have been effective for 3 or 4 years.1
- Allergy shots work best when you are allergic to just a few allergens that are hard to avoid.
- If you have coronary artery disease, are using beta-blockers, are pregnant, are not able to communicate how the shots are working, or have an impaired immune system, allergy shots are not recommended.
- Children may use allergy shots if they have persistent
asthma made worse by allergens.
- Children younger than 2 should not have allergy shots.
- Children ages 3 to 4 may find it hard to have to get many shots over a long period of time. Talk with your doctor.
- Your child's asthma needs to be well controlled before he or she gets allergy shots.
Allergic rhinitis (often called hay fever) occurs when your immune system overreacts to particles in the air that you breathe—you are allergic to them. Your immune system attacks the particles, causing symptoms such as sneezing and a runny nose. The particles are called allergens, which simply means that they can cause an allergic reaction.
Asthma is a long-lasting condition that causes wheezing, trouble breathing, tightness in the chest, and coughing. When allergens such as pollens, dust mites, animal dander, cockroaches, and mold make your symptoms worse, it is known as allergic asthma.
When you get allergy shots (immunotherapy), your allergist or doctor injects small doses of substances that you are allergic to (allergens) under your skin. Over time, this decreases your reaction to the allergen and may reduce the symptoms of allergic rhinitis. Allergy shots are available for allergies to:
- Pollen (ragweed, grasses, trees).
- Dust mites and cockroaches.
- Animal dander (dog and cat).
- Mold (fungus).
- You have tried medicine and have avoided allergens, and you still have severe symptoms.
- You have tried medicine but can't deal with the side effects.
- You have another health problem, such as asthma or coronary artery disease (CAD), that puts you at increased risk for a severe reaction to the shots.
- Your child with allergies is younger than 5.
- You are pregnant. Pregnant women who are already getting allergy shots may keep getting them. But doctors don't recommend starting allergy shots during pregnancy.
Compare your options
What is usually involved?
What are the benefits?
What are the risks and side effects?
- You will have skin tests to see what you are allergic to.
- You will get a shot once or twice a week that contains a small amount of the allergen.
- Over 4 to 6 months your doctor will add more allergen to the shot.
- You will get the same dose in shots every 2 to 4 weeks for the next 4 to 6 months.
- You may get monthly shots for 3 to 5 years.
- The shots usually work to relieve allergy symptoms, especially if you are allergic to only a few things.
- You can't be sure how long allergy shots will work after you stop getting them.
- If you have another health problem, such as asthma or coronary artery disease (CAD), you are at increased risk for a severe reaction to the shots.
- A life-threatening, whole-body reaction (anaphylaxis) to the shots is possible, but this is rare.
- You can take medicine to control allergy or asthma symptoms, and you can try to avoid the allergen.
- You will avoid having shots.
- You won't have to spend the money on a long series of shots.
- You won't have to travel to a clinic for regular shots.
- You may have to deal with symptoms such as sneezing, wheezing, and a runny nose.
- Allergic rhinitis can lead to problems such as sinus infections, plugged ears or ear infections, and sinusitis.
- Allergic asthma can increase your risk of lung and airway infections, such as pneumonia and bronchitis.
Personal stories about taking allergy shots
These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.
I bought my daughter, Tina, a cat for her birthday. A month or so later, I developed allergy symptoms that I have never had before: sneezing; puffy, irritated eyes; and feeling tired. I thought maybe I was allergic to a detergent or soap, but my doctor did some tests, and it turns out I am allergic to the cat. I know it would break my daughter's heart to have to find a new home for the cat, and I have gotten attached to it, too. I decided to try getting the allergy shots and do what I can to keep the cat hair and dander out of my bedroom.
Lynn, age 42
For as long as I can remember, I have had bad hay fever. I have had tests to find out just what kind of pollen I am allergic to, and it turns out that I am allergic to several different kinds. I have learned over the years that my symptoms will get worse at certain times of the year, and I try to avoid being exposed to pollen during those times. My doctor and I also have spent a lot of time finding out which antihistamines and allergy medicines work for me without a lot of side effects. I feel like I manage my allergies well, so I'm not going to have the shots.
Kenny, age 44
I have lots of postnasal drainage from my allergies, and I get several sinus infections every year during allergy season. I could take drugs to treat a runny nose, but these other problems—and the side effects of the drugs—really affect my quality of life. My doctor has narrowed it down to just a couple of things that I am most allergic to, and I am going to try 1 or 2 years of allergy shots to see if they will help reduce my post-nasal drip and control my sinus infection problems.
Jorge, age 30
I have seasonal allergies that trigger my asthma during allergy season. I know that trees and ragweed trigger my symptoms, so when these are blooming, I try to avoid them as much as possible. Since avoiding these pollens seems to help, I don't want to go through with the skin testing and then the time it takes to get allergy shots.
Sara, age 33
I have asthma, and it gets worse during allergy season. I love being outside during the spring and summer, and I exercise outside a lot. My allergist told me that allergy shots could help my asthma during allergy season and during the whole year. I will do anything to be able to spend more time outside when it is such beautiful weather. I am definitely going to try allergy shots to reduce my asthma symptoms.
Kathy, age 28
I think the hassle of having shots every week for years would be a lot worse than dealing with my runny nose and itchy eyes for a few months every year. Maybe I will buy some stock in the tissue and antihistamine companies!
John, age 19
What matters most to you?
Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.
Reasons to choose allergy shots
Reasons not to choose allergy shots
I want to do whatever possible to relieve my symptoms even if I don't know how long the shots will work.
I don't want allergy shots if I can't be sure how long they will work.
I have tried to avoid or am not able to avoid the things that I am allergic to.
I believe I can avoid the things I am allergic to.
I want to treat the cause of my allergies, not just the symptoms.
I don't mind using medicine to relieve my symptoms.
I am willing to spend the money and take the time to get allergy shots.
I don't want to spend the time and money on allergy shots.
I have tried medicine and can't deal with the side effects.
Medicine controls my symptoms without side effects.
My other important reasons:
My other important reasons:
Where are you leaning now?
Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.
Getting allergy shots
NOT getting allergy shots
What else do you need to make your decision?
Check the facts
Are allergy shots likely to relieve your allergy symptoms?
- YesThat's right. Allergy shots will probably help you. They are effective for most people and can reduce symptoms if you are allergic to pollens, animal dander, dust mites, mold, or cockroaches.
- NoNo, that's not right. Allergy shots will probably help you. They are effective for most people and can reduce symptoms if you are allergic to pollens, animal dander, dust mites, mold, or cockroaches.
- I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." Allergy shots are effective for most people and can reduce symptoms if you are allergic to pollens, animal dander, dust mites, mold, or cockroaches.
Do most people complete their allergy shots within 2 years?
Can children over age 5 have allergy shots?
- YesThat's right. Children may use allergy shots if they have ongoing asthma made worse by allergens. Your child's asthma needs to be well controlled before he or she gets allergy shots.
- NoNo, that's wrong. Actually children may use allergy shots if they have ongoing asthma made worse by allergens. Your child's asthma needs to be well controlled before he or she gets allergy shots.
- I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." Children may use allergy shots if they have ongoing asthma made worse by allergens, but the asthma must be well controlled first.
Decide what's next
Do you understand the options available to you?
Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?
Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?
How sure do you feel right now about your decision?
Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.
Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Rohit K Katial, MD - Allergy and Immunology|