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Do Allergy Shots Work?

The best way to control your allergies is to stay away from what you are allergic to. Sometimes, however, that is almost impossible. At times, your best option may be to try and develop immunity to the allergen. It may sound backwards but being injected with small amounts of what causes your allergies can sometimes help control and reduce your allergic reactions.

The technical term for this procedure is allergen immunotherapy but almost everybody just calls it allergy shots. Sometimes it is also called specific immunotherapy because the injections are designed to target only your specific allergies. The first step, of course, is to clearly understand exactly what it is you are allergic to so that the allergy shots can be targeted for you.

Your doctor will use various skin and blood tests to identify the specific allergies. Once the allergens are identified, the series of allergy shots can be setup. The procedure does not involve just one shot but rather a series of many shots administered over an extended period of time. You will get 1 or 2 shots per week of a very low dose to start with. Usually you are given the shot in your upper arm and the doctor will ask that you stay in the clinic for 20 to 30 minutes to make sure you don't react severely to the dose. This procedure of one shot per week continues for up to 6 or 7 months with ever-increasing doses of the allergen. Once you reach a dose level that allows you to effectively fight off normal environmental levels of the allergen then the doctor will switch you to a maintenance allergy shot that will be given approximately once per month. The monthly maintenance allergy shot in some cases will continue for up to several years. Sometimes this procedure will give you a permanent immunity to the allergen but more often you will need to go through the procedure again at some time in the future.

The idea is to slowly build up your resistance to the allergies without giving you so much at a time that you get severe reactions. It is very similar to a vaccination. Over a period of time your body gets used to fighting off the invading substance and your negative reactions to the allergy are reduced or eliminated. You build up immunity to the allergy substance. The bodies normal reaction to allergens is to generate a substance called IgE which is short for immunoglobulin E. IgE builds up a defensive barrier to the allergen by causing typical allergy responses; runny nose, sore and watery eyes, sneezing, inflammation, congestion and skin redness. The goal of allergy shots is to get the body to make a different molecule called immunoglobulin G (IgG). Unlike IgE, IgG will go on the offensive against the allergen. It binds with and effectively destroys the allergen. This reduces the amount of the allergen that the IgE reacts to which in turn will reduce your allergy symptoms.

Allergy shots can be extremely effective against insect stings and bites and also against allergens that you would inhale. For example, up to 75 percent of hay fever sufferers get reduced or eliminated allergy symptoms by going through allergen immunotherapy.
Michael Russell
Your Independent guide to Allergies

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