Immunotherapy (commonly called "allergy shots") is a safe and effective treatment for patients with allergies. It is based on the premise that people who receive injections of a specific allergen will lose sensitivity to that allergen. The most common allergens for which shots are given are house dust, cat dander, grass pollen, and mold.
Immunotherapy benefits include:
- Targeting the specific allergen
- Reducing sensitivity in airways in the lungs as well as in the upper airways
- Preventing the development of new allergies in children
- Reducing asthma symptoms and the use of asthma medications in patients with known allergies. Research suggests it may also help prevent the development of asthma in children with allergies.
Candidates for Immunotherapy. Immunotherapy may be given to anyone with allergies that do not get better with medication and who has had a positive allergy test to specific allergens. The latest guidelines indicate that immunotherapy is safe for young children. Immunotherapy is safe for pregnant women who are already receiving it, although half-strength doses are generally recommended, and it should not be started during pregnancy.
Individuals at Risk for Complications. People who should probably avoid immunotherapy include those who have:
- An extreme response to skin tests (this may predict an allergic reaction).
- Uncontrolled severe asthma or lung disease.
- Patients taking certain medications (such as beta blockers).
- The health status of anyone should be determined before starting treatment.
The major downside to immunotherapy is that it requires a prolonged course of weekly injections. The process generally includes:
Review Date: 05/03/2011
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.