HealthSheets™


Understanding Allergy Immunotherapy (Adult)

Allergy shots, or immunotherapy, are ways to treat allergies. The shots help lessen your body's reaction to allergens or those things that cause you to have allergy symptoms.

People with these conditions may have immunotherapy:

  • Nasal allergies (allergic rhinitis)

  • Inflammation of the lining of the eye caused by allergies (allergic conjunctivitis)

  • Asthma, triggered by allergens

  • Stinging insect allergy

Deciding to have immunotherapy 

Woman getting a shot in her upper arm

Talk with your healthcare provider about whether you should have allergy shots. Consider the following:

  • The severity of your allergy symptoms

  • How long the symptoms last. (Do you have symptoms all year, or just for a few periods during spring or fall?)

  • How well your symptoms are controlled by taking medicines and avoiding triggers

  • Whether you want to take allergy medicines long-term

  • The time involved and cost of allergy shots

How immunotherapy works

You will get injections of increasing amounts of allergens that cause your allergy symptoms. Your body gradually gets used to the allergens. Eventually your body won't react to them as much and you won't have such severe allergy symptoms. This works in most, but not all people.

Having immunotherapy

The shots are given in the upper arm. The shots are usually not painful, but you will feel a small pinch. After your shot, you may have some redness and swelling in your arm. Mild reactions to the shots can include sneezing, nasal congestion, or itchy red, raised spots on the skin (mild hives). Rarely people can have severe allergic reactions to the shots. These can include throat or chest tightness, coughing, wheezing, or swelling. Allergic reactions need to be treated right away. Your allergist is prepared to treat allergic reactions in the office.

You may have 1, 2 or more shots a week for 3 to 6 months, or as advised by your healthcare provider. This is the buildup phase. Then you will have shots every 2 to 4 weeks, during the maintenance phase. Maintenance immunotherapy treatment usually continues for about 3 to 5 years, or as directed by your provider. Shot schedules are not exactly the same for each person. Your provider will set your schedule. You may actually start to feel better during the buildup phase, although it can take much longer.

Each time you get your shots, you will wait in the office for at least 30 minutes. This is to make sure you aren't having a severe allergic reaction, even though severe reactions are uncommon.

While you’re being treated

Immunotherapy is only part of the treatment plan for people with allergies. Since it takes time to work, you will need to keep taking allergy medicines as advised by your healthcare provider. It's also important to try to avoid your allergens.

When to seek medical attention

Call your healthcare provider or seek medical attention right away if you have severe symptoms such as:

  • Wheezing or chest tightness

  • Swelling of the throat, lips or mouth

  • Dizziness or fainting

  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea

  • Trouble breathing

  • Abdominal pain

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