What is allergen immunotherapy (allergy shots/drops)?

Allergen immunotherapy is a series of subcutaneous injections (allergy “shots”) or sublingual droplets (allergy “drops” given under the tongue) given to naturally control allergy symptoms. In contrast to medications such as antihistamines and nasal sprays that treat the symptoms of allergic rhinitis and other allergy-related disorders, allergen immunotherapy treats the cause and induces a natural immunity or tolerance to the allergen. Receiving allergen immunotherapy desensitizes allergy patients to their specific allergens and is the only way to “turn off” the immune system’s reactions. During immunotherapy, the patient will gradually develop a stronger tolerance of his or her allergens. With allergen immunotherapy, your allergy symptoms and medication needs can be decreased, minimized or even eliminated. Both allergy shots and drops provide this significant benefit—allergy shots are administered during convenient injection hours at our office; allergy drops are self-administered at home. Your doctor can discuss the advantages of both of these treatments with you in further detail during your appointment.

Who should consider receiving allergen immunotherapy?

You should consider allergen immunotherapy if complete avoidance of your allergens is impossible, or if you:

  • have moderate to severe allergies
  • have frequent respiratory tract infections
  • do not respond to allergy medications
  • would prefer to avoid a lifetime of allergy medication use
  • are willing to commit to a regularly scheduled treatment plan
  • have chronic sinusitis or asthma due to allergies

How does allergen immunotherapy work?

Allergen immunotherapy works like a vaccine. Whereas a vaccine contains traces of a specific disease or bacteria, allergen immunotherapy contains traces of your specific allergens–the very things that trigger an allergic reaction by your immune system. By gradually increasing the doses of your allergen, your body develops an immunity and/or tolerance to that allergen. In essence, allergen immunotherapy turns off an inappropriate immune response–your allergic reaction to a plant, tree, pet or mold–while still allowing your immune system to respond normally to infectious agents such as viruses/bacteria.

Allergen immunotherapy occurs in two phases:

  1. Build-up phase: involves a routine of injections/drops with increasing amounts of allergens.
  2. Maintenance phase: begins when the effective therapeutic dose is achieved. Once this maintenance dose is reached, injections generally become less frequent (drops are given daily).

Allergy immunotherapy is typically continued for a period of several years. Many patients have long-lasting improvement after this treatment is stopped.