All About Allergy Shots

A woman sits near a field of flowers, blowing her nose.
(Image credit: Allergies photo via Shutterstock)

"The Healthy Geezer" answers questions about health and aging in his weekly column.

Question: What are allergy shots?

Answer: Allergy shots—which are also known as immunotherapy—are a series of scheduled injections designed to desensitize you to specific allergens, substances that trigger an allergic response. Typically, the shots are given once or twice a week for about three to six months; then, about once a month for three to five years.

Commonly used to treat allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and asthma, allergy shots may also control allergic reactions to stinging insects, such as bees, yellow jackets, hornets and wasps. But the shots are not effective against food allergies.

Before a person starts allergy shots, the doctor may do a skin test to confirm the presence of allergies and determine which specific allergens are causing symptoms. During the test, a small amount of the suspected allergen is scratched onto the skin and the area is observed for about 20 minutes. Any swelling and redness that occurs indicates an allergy to the substance.

The shots don’t give immediate relief. Expect to see some improvement during the first year of treatment. The most noticeable improvement often happens during the second year. By the third year, most people are desensitized to the allergens contained in the shots.

For some people, successful treatment leads to a life without allergy symptoms. For others, shots must continue on a long-term basis to keep allergy symptoms at bay.

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 All rights reserved © 2012 by Fred Cicetti

Fred Cicetti is a contributing writer for Live Science who specializes in health. He has been writing professionally since 1963. Before he began freelancing, he was a reporter, rewriteman and columnist for three daily newspapers in New Jersey: The Newark News, Newark Star-Ledger and Morristown Record. He has written two published novels:" Saltwater Taffy—A Summer at the Jersey Shore," and "Local Angles—Big News in Small Towns."