Whether it’s the spring, summer or fall, like clockwork, your eyes start watering, your nose starts running and you begin sneezing uncontrollably. Allergies are a nuisance and they can severely affect your productivity at work and in life in general. When you don’t feel well, you don’t want to do things.
While many people are able to manage their symptoms with over-the-counter or prescription-strength antihistamines, those with more severe symptoms might want to consider longer-lasting therapies, or therapies that aim to get to the root of the problem. Immunotherapy, or allergy shots, is one option for coping with allergies. Learn more about the treatment to see if it’s right for you.
What is Immunotherapy?
The sniffling, sneezing and other unpleasantness connected to allergies occurs because your body’s immune system is overreacting to a common, otherwise harmless foreign body. For many allergy sufferers, that foreign body is usually some type of pollen. For others, it’s a mold, dust or dust mites, or some type of cosmetic product.
Exposure to an allergen is what triggers your allergies, as the immune system mistakenly thinks the substance is something harmful. The concept behind immunotherapy is that repeated exposure to that same allergen can help minimize your body’s immune response to it. When you receive immunotherapy or allergy shots, your surgeon injects a small amount of the allergen into your body.
Typically, you start out receiving shots on a weekly basis. After about one year, your surgeon might recommend cutting back on the injections, so that you receive them every other week or so. After another year of bi-weekly shots, you might cut back even more and get one shot every three to four weeks.
How often you need to receive the injections and for how long depends on how your immune system responds to the treatment. Some people get relief from their allergies and are able to be weaned off of the shots. Others, usually a smaller percentage of people, need to continue to receive the injections for the rest of their lives.
Does it “Cure” Allergies?
Allergy shots can greatly reduce your allergy symptoms and eliminate the need to take over-the-counter or prescription allergy medicines. But the shots themselves won’t necessarily “cure” your allergies. It’s difficult to say for sure how your body will react to the shots. You might see a dramatic improvement in your allergies after years of immunotherapy, or you might need to continue to get shots throughout your life in order to see any results.
Does Immunotherapy Have Risks?
Since your surgeon is injecting you with a substance you’re known to be allergic to, there are some risks to allergy shots. The main risk is that you’ll have some sort of allergic reaction to the substance. Allergic reactions can range from mild, such as a small rash, to life-threatening, such as anaphylaxis.
Usually, your surgeon will ask you to stay at the office for at least 30 minutes after you receive an allergy shot. Waiting at the office means that you’ll be able to get treatment and help right away if your body does have a reaction to the injection, whether the reaction is mild or severe. Although most reactions to immunotherapy shots develop within 30 minutes of the treatment, it’s also possible for a delayed reaction to occur. If that’s the case, your best option is to go to the emergency department for treatment.
What Are Other Treatment Options for Allergies?
Immunotherapy isn’t the only way to treat allergies. It’s also not the best choice for all people. For example, if you’re currently pregnant or plan on getting pregnant, your surgeon might advise against allergy shots for now. Allergy shots might not be appropriate for you if you have a history of heart disease or are taking certain medicines.
Other treatments for allergies include avoidance and antihistamines. Avoidance means doing what you can do avoid the allergen. In the case of pollen and other airborne allergens, that can be tricky.
Antihistamines help minimize allergy symptoms by suppressing histamine, a substance that’s responsible for many common symptoms. Older antihistamines typically had one very unappealing side effect: they made people drowsy. Newer formulations are non-drowsy and also tend to work for longer, meaning you need to take fewer doses to get the same results.
ABOUT DR. RUBINSTEIN
Dr. Rubinstein has nearly sixteen years of experience in helping patients with allergies and sinus problems in the Hudson Valley. A board certified facial plastic surgeon and board certified otolaryngologist, he has extensive knowledge of laser procedures, facial plastic surgery, and nasal and sinus treatments, which allows him to improve aesthetics as well as functionality of the nose and facial features. Dr. Rubinstein received his board certifications through the American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and the American Board of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. To learn more about allergies, allergy testing and immunotherapy, schedule an appointment with Dr. Rubinstein at the Hudson Valley Sinus Center by calling 845-562-6673.