Are allergy shots the right course of treatment for your allergy and asthma symptoms?
As an allergist, I enjoy helping with long-term control of allergy symptoms, in order to improve quality of life and reduce the requirement for medications over time. One of the most effective treatments to achieve these goals is allergen immunotherapy, also called allergy shots. Allergy shots are an excellent option for appropriate patients.
What exactly is an allergy?
Allergy is a state that occurs when the body’s immune system mistakes a substance that is normally harmless as an invader and attacks it. For example, pollen from oak trees is not dangerous, but people who are genetically predisposed to allergy produce allergic antibodies to oak pollen. When exposed to oak pollen, an allergic reaction is triggered which results in the release of histamine and many other allergic “mediators,” resulting in allergy symptoms.
What are some common symptoms of allergies?
Allergic rhinitis (or “hay fever”) affects around 20% of the population and causes symptoms of nasal congestion, itching, sneezing, runny nose, and post-nasal drip. These symptoms can be so severe as to result in missed work and school days, and decreased concentration in school for children. Some patients have less severe symptoms that are easily controlled by an over-the-counter antihistamine, such as Zyrtec. However, many patients with more severe symptoms can benefit from consultation with an allergist for testing, guidance on allergen avoidance strategies, and potentially allergy shots.
What is asthma?
Asthma affects around 8% of the population and is a state of increased inflammation in the bronchial tree (the “airways”). In response to various triggers, such as exercise, cold air, viral infections, air pollution, or allergens, the airways constrict and cause symptoms of shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and chest tightness. Some patients have mild, infrequent symptoms, while others have daily, severe symptoms and frequently require oral steroids, which have many side effects. Around 4,000 Americans die annually from asthma. There are many modern, effective therapies to treat asthma that reduce symptoms, flare-ups, ER visits, and reduce the frequency of taking oral steroids. One of the most important therapies is inhaled steroids. Allergy shots also play an important role for select patients with asthma.
How can allergy shots help me?
Allergists have treated patients with allergy shots for more than 100 years. First, the allergist performs a thorough history and physical exam. Then, an allergy skin prick test is performed. Allergy skin testing is well tolerated and provides results in a few minutes. After considering allergen avoidance (for example, avoidance of dust mites) and trying medications, many patients choose to start receiving allergy shots. The allergy shot prescription is tailored to the patient and contains the allergen extracts to which the patient is allergic. It works by actually “re-educating” the immune system not to attack the allergens to which a patient is allergic. There is a build-up program that begins at very low doses. Over the next few months, the dose is gradually increased until the “maintenance” dose is achieved. Most patients receive the maintenance dose once a month for 3-5 years.
The benefits include a reduction of nasal allergy symptoms and improved control of allergic asthma. Most patients report an 80-90% reduction in their nasal allergy symptoms. Allergy shots can also allow patients to reduce the amount of medications required to control their allergies. Another benefit is prolonged reduction of symptoms (often for decades) after a 3-5 year course of allergy shots. Not everyone is an appropriate candidate for allergy shots. For many patients, allergy shots can dramatically reduce allergy and asthma symptoms so that they can live life without limits.
If your allergies are not well controlled, call 563-557-9111 for an appointment with Dr. Letz.
For more information, visit https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/treatments/allergy-shots-(immunotherapy)