Allergy Shots Part 3: How Are They Administered And What Are The Side Effects?

June 9, 2010

There are two phases to allergy shots, the build up desensitization phase and the maintenance phase.  Patients are initially started on very low doses of the allergen, and during the build up phase the doses are increased to higher and higher levels until the maintenance dose is reached.   It usually takes about 24 visits to get to the maintenance dose level and these visits are usually weekly or twice a week.  Once the maintenance dose level is reached, the visits are spaced to every 2 to 4 weeks. 

Since allergy shots actually contain the substance that you are allergic to, the main potential side effect is an allergic reaction to the shots themselves.  Because of this possibility, all people on allergy shots, must wait in the doctor’s office for 30 minutes after the shot is given so they can be monitored for the possibility of a reaction.  It is not unusual to have a little itchiness or slight swelling at the site of the shot.  The type of reaction that is concerning and needs to be treated immediately, is a more generalized allergic reaction to the shot, including anaphylaxis.  There have been rare reports of life threatening anaphylaxis resulting from allergy shots.  I always emphasize the importance of waiting a full 30 minutes after receiving a shot since that is the time frame within which the vast majority of reactions will start to occur.  

I prescribe an Epi Pen for all of my patients on allergy shots and ask them to carry it with them the day of their shot.  An Epi Pen is a self-administered shot of epinephrine or adrenaline that is carried routinely by people with life threatening reactions to foods or bee stings.  I think it is a good idea for people on allergy shots to have this with them the day of their shots as an extra level of caution.  Fortunately, I have never had a patient on allergy shots who has had to use an Epi Pen for that purpose.

Patients will sometimes ask me if it is OK for them to administer shots to themselves at home.   The answer to that is simple: NO.  It is never appropriate for allergy shots to be administered outside of a physician’s office or health care facility that is prepared to treat anaphylaxis. 

Note: The content of this blog is for informational purposes only and is not meant as specific medical advice for a specific person.   If you have a medical problem, please contact your doctor.

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