You probably take something to ease your seasonal allergy symptoms. Maybe you’re using more and more medicine over time, or it’s not working that well. You may be thinking about switching to immunotherapy to see if that helps more.
Allergy shots are one form. There’s also sublingual immunotherapy, which uses tablets. (“Sublingual” means that the medicine goes under your tongue.)
Both forms work the same way: They expose you to a tiny amount of your allergy trigger so that over time, your body learns to handle it better. This can make a big difference in your allergy symptoms.
“A lot of patients now are looking for more natural treatment options and minimizing the amount of medications they’re needing,” says Kara Wada, MD, an assistant professor of allergy and immunology at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
If you’ve got asthma, it must be under good control before you start this type of treatment, because exposure to your allergy trigger has the potential to cause a flare-up.
What to Expect
If you’re interested in allergy shots or sublingual immunotherapy, you first need to visit your allergist and get tested to pinpoint exactly what you’re allergic to, if you haven’t done this already.
With allergy shots, your allergist creates a shot formulation that’s based on your test results. You’ll need to get a shot from your allergist at least once a week for 3-6 months. Each week, your doctor will raise the amount of allergens in the shot until you reach a maintenance dose. Your doctor might recommend that you take an antihistamine before you get each treatment.
Once you reach the maintenance dose, you can cut back on your visits (and shots) to every 2-4 weeks, a schedule you keep for 3-5 years or until your symptoms improve. “There seems to be some point within that window when the immune response changes,” Wada says.
You’ll need to wait in your allergist’s office for about half an hour after each allergy shot to make sure you don’t have a serious reaction.
With sublingual immunotherapy, your treatment will probably start 12-16 weeks before pollen season begins and last through pollen season. You take the first dose in the allergist’s office and the rest at home.