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Do allergy shots help?

August 30, 2018 | UCI Health
person getting an allergy shot

Allergies are the most common ailment among people around the world. When allergens invade, our immune systems attack. We suffer wheezing, itching, runny noses, watery eyes and other symptoms as our bodies try to rid themselves of the irritants.

Asthma can also flare up when allergic symptoms cause inflammation in the nose and respiratory system.

Asal Gharib, MD, a UCI Health internist with specialties in allergies and immunology, wants you to know that doctors can help alleviate allergy symptoms — maybe even for good — with prescription medications, including injections.

Finding your allergy triggers

The first step, Gharib says, is to determine what your allergy triggers are. There are a few ways to find out:

Skin tests

In this simple test, a stamp-like device injects small amounts of allergens into the skin on a person’s back. After 15 minutes, a medical professional checks the area for any raised areas that look like mosquito bites as signals of positive reactions. These tests are the most frequently used and test for allergens associated with rabbits, hamsters, cats, dogs, horses, molds and Southern California-specific grasses, trees and weeds.

Blood tests

A blood test checks for the presence of similar allergens, but it’s usually used for people who have a strong fear of the tiny needles used in the skin tests, who are taking certain medicines or have a skin condition that make testing impossible.

Shots can eliminate many allergies

“Yes, we can eliminate many allergies,” Gharib says. “There are two different treatments: allergy injections and sublingual medications.”

Allergy shots

Injections are given in two phases: a weekly build-in phase to the maximum dose of the allergens a person is allergic to, then maintenance shots once a month for three to five years. They help your body get used to things that trigger an allergic reaction in you. For a majority of patients, this regimen works to eliminate symptoms and greatly reduce symptoms in others.

Allergy tablets

The FDA has recently approved medications placed under the tongue that can take the place of shots for people whose schedules make weekly injections impossible. The one hitch, though, is that these tablets are available only for allergies to grass or dust mites.

Allergies to food and medicines cannot be treated with shots or tablets. The best treatment for them is to avoid the offending food or medication.

Getting treatment for allergies

“Genetic predisposition plays a role in whether you’re allergic and what substances affect you,” Gharib says.

“There is no genetic testing yet, and treatment remains very individualized. But please don’t think nothing can be done. We can help you.”

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