Allergen immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots, is a form of long-term treatment that decreases symptoms for many people with allergic rhinitis, allergic asthma, conjunctivitis (eye allergy) or stinging insect allergy.
Allergy shots decrease sensitivity to allergens and often leads to lasting relief of allergy symptoms even after treatment is stopped. This makes it a cost-effective, beneficial treatment approach for many people.
Both children and adults can receive allergy shots, although it is not typically recommended for children under age five. This is because of the difficulties younger children may have in cooperating with the program and in articulating any adverse symptoms they may be experiencing. When considering allergy shots for an older adult, medical conditions such as cardiac disease should be taken into consideration and discussed with your allergist / immunologist first.
You and your allergist / immunologist should base your decision regarding allergy shots on:
Allergy shots are not used to treat food allergies. The best option for people with food allergies is to strictly avoid that food.
Allergy shots work like a vaccine. Your body responds to injected amounts of a particular allergen, given in gradually increasing doses, by developing immunity or tolerance to the allergen.
There are two phases:
You may notice a decrease in symptoms during the build-up phase, but it may take as long as 12 months on the maintenance dose to notice an improvement. If allergy shots are successful, maintenance treatment is generally continued for three to five years. Any decision to stop allergy shots should be discussed with your allergist / immunologist.
Allergy shots have shown to decrease symptoms of many allergies. It can prevent the development of new allergies, and in children it can prevent the progression of allergic disease from allergic rhinitis to asthma. The effectiveness of allergy shots appears to be related to the length of the treatment program as well as the dose of the allergen. Some people experience lasting relief from allergy symptoms, while others may relapse after discontinuing allergy shots. If you have not seen improvement after a year of maintenance therapy, your allergist / immunologist will work with you to discuss treatment options.
Failure to respond to allergy shots may be due to several factors:
A typical reaction is redness and swelling at the injection site. This can happen immediately or several hours after the treatment. In some instances, symptoms can include increased allergy symptoms such as sneezing, nasal congestion or hives.
Serious reactions to allergy shots are rare. When they do occur, they require immediate medical attention. Symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction can include swelling in the throat, wheezing or tightness in the chest, nausea and dizziness. Most serious reactions develop within 15 minutes of the allergy injections. This is why it is recommended you wait in your doctor's office for at least 15 minutes after you receive allergy shots.
A true food allergy is triggered by IgE antibody production specific to a reactive food. IgE reactions generally occur within minutes of eating a reactive food, which is why they are also called ‘immediate’ hypersensitivity reactions. After the first exposure to a food allergen, the body remembers what the allergen looks like and keeps a supply of IgE ready for immediate release if it sees that allergen again. Food allergies can be life-threatening (for example, an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts), but these reactions are rare, occurring in less than 1% of people. Skin reactions like hives and eczema, plus breathing and digestive problems are also common IgE reactions. Referral to an allergy specialist is recommended in the case of serious food allergies.
Serious reactions like difficulty breathing or anaphylactic reactions should be diagnosed and treated by a physician or a healthcare professional trained in treatment of allergic reactions. However, otherwise unexplained and chronic symptoms like those listed above may be signs of food allergies.
In an IgG reaction, the IgG antibodies attach themselves to the food antigen and create an antibody-antigen complex. These complexes are normally removed by special cells called macrophages. However, if they are present in large numbers and the reactive food is still being consumed, the macrophages can’t remove them quickly enough. The food antigen-antibody complexes accumulate and are deposited in body tissues. Once in tissue, these complexes release inflammation causing chemicals, which may play a role in numerous diseases and conditions.
There is a growing body of evidence to support the clinical benefits of eliminating IgG reactive foods from the diet. IgG food sensitivities have been implicated in migraine headaches and irritable bowel syndrome (alternating diarrhea and constipation). Bloating and indigestion are also common food sensitivity reactions, as is fatigue. Continued consumption of reactive foods may contribute to weight gain and/or difficulty losing weight. Eczema is also commonly associated with food reactions. Because IgG food reactions take hours or days to develop, this makes it difficult to determine which food is responsible for the reaction without doing testing.
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