Allergy jabs can be a wondrous solution to any suffering that you may incur, but results on each individual can vary. There is also a tendency to have to rely on them on a regular basis to solve your allergy problems, rather than it be just a one off situation. But they can help, certainly. They may not completely stop the symptoms of your specific allergy, but they can reduce the resultant discomfort by desensitisation.
How do allergy injections work?
Allergy injections (also called immunotherapy) are administered over a period of time (usually 3 – 5 years) and can reduce attacks quite significantly, or you may even feel that they have completely stopped. However, it is possible that any relief or cessation will not be permanent, although in some reported cases, after a long period of time, symptoms may completely vanish long term and sufferers will not experience the problems that caused them to seek treatment in the first place, but this is comparatively rare.
Once the cause of the allergy has been defined, your doctor will begin a course of immunotherapy with you, which in the beginning normally involves two injections per week. The injections involve a small amount of the exact allergen or allergens that is or are causing you the problems, with the intention of building up your immunity to those specifics. The amount of allergen/s is ramped up over a defined amount of time to continue to build that immunity. This period of time is called ‘desensitisation’. Your doctor will have assessed how much dosage will be needed as time goes on and increase accordingly, but with longer gaps between each injection. Three to five years may seem a very long time, but this is necessary to build up the immunity to optimum level, in order for symptoms to decrease and make life bearable again.
Are there any side effects?
There should only be a few potential side effects, but nothing life-threatening. Normally your doctor will ask you to stay in the waiting room for an agreed period to ensure that nothing untoward ensues. However, in extreme cases, more dangerous reactions may occur, which is why the waiting period is requested from your doctor.
There are a few quite normal reactions that may occur during the waiting time or up to a few hours afterwards. These are pretty much localised, such as:
- Redness or inflammation
- Slight swelling
- Itchiness or irritation on the site of the injection
These are all very common, and will clear up quickly. If you are in any doubt, you should obviously contact your doctor.
In rarer cases, and these do need investigation, you may develop the following:
- Incessant sneezing, congested nasal passages
- Swelling of the throat
- Tightness of chest and difficulty in breathing
Much more seriously, but very rarely, anaphylaxis may occur, causing very low blood pressure (hypotension, not to be confused with hypertension which is high blood pressure) and inability to breathe. Obviously it is imperative if this happens that you get immediate emergency treatment. Anaphylaxis occurs quite rapidly, so once again that waiting time in the surgery is well worth it. Don’t be alarmed, this is very rare indeed. It is important that once you start the course of injections, that you do continue with them on a regular basis, and don’t suddenly desist. Missing a few, then starting again, can also quite often cause a bad and potentially serious reaction.
I am scared of injections – is there an alternative?
Maximum effect is gained by a controlled course of allergy injections. It does depend on exactly what you are allergic to. As the injections are done twice or even three times per week in the initial period, you may find that if you brave the first couple of weeks, you will become accustomed to them and stop being afraid! There are obviously oral medications that can help reduce allergic reactions, but unfortunately they don’t have the same effectiveness as a course of injections. Your doctor may have already tried implementing orally, before suggesting to you that you undergo the injection process.
Can any allergy be treated with injections?
Unfortunately not. Allergic reaction to the following can be treated by injection:
- Seasonal allergies such as hay fever which can be caused by pollen from trees, grasses and other garden growth
- Allergy to certain insect bites or stings (wasps are a classic example)
- Allergy to domestic growth such as dust mites, mould and pet hair. This type of allergy is suffered continually throughout the year and not restricted to just a few months when pollen is rife in the air outdoors
Please note – injections are not currently available for food allergies, as they are not yet scientifically approved by the relevant ruling bodies for drug therapy.
How do I find out if I am allergic to something?
The simplest route is straight to your doctor as soon as you notice irritation, rashes or other symptoms that are not usual for you. Your doctor will perform a skin test and also talk to you about any changes you have made in diet, whether you have recently purchased a pet, have you changed your washing powder etc etc. Once he has established possible cause based on your information, he will then do the skin test. It’s easy, possibly a little sensitive to your skin, but is over in seconds. A small amount of the suspected allergy is gently scratched into your skin to see if there is a reaction. Reactions take up to 15 minutes, by which time, if your skin shows a swelling or redness, this will be an indication that this particular allergen is the culprit.
Some doctors will also use a blood test to denote any allergies present, but this may not be conclusive without the scratch test.