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Asthma and Allergies

Immunotherapy: The “Shot in the Arm” for Treating Your Fall Allergies

Did you know it’s wise to start immunotherapy treatment – both shots and tablets – for fall allergies well before the season begins?

What is immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy in the form of allergy shots or under-the-tongue tablets can make a huge difference for allergy sufferers. Both types of immunotherapy work by changing your immune system. They decrease specific cells, chemicals, and antibodies in your system that cause allergy symptoms and increase others that improve health. Allergy shots and tablets allow you to encounter your allergens without having symptoms.

Allergy shots

Allergy shots are the most used and most effective form of allergy immunotherapy. They treat allergic conditions affecting the nose, eyes, ears, and lungs as well as for severe insect sting allergy. Shots are effective in treating reactions to many allergens, including trees, grass, weeds, mold, house dust, animal dander, and insect stings.

How do allergy shots work? An extract of a small amount of the allergen is injected into your arm. An injection may be given once a week (sometimes more often) for about seven months, after which shots can be given every two weeks. Eventually, shots can be given every four weeks. Therapy may last three to five years, sometimes longer.

Allergy shots have been a proven allergy treatment for more than 100 years. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), they are the only treatment that changes the immune system. They prevent new allergies and asthma from developing and have a lasting beneficial effect well after treatment is completed.

Allergy tablets

Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) is a newer form of immunotherapy. Instead of injecting an allergen under the skin, small doses are given under your tongue. There are two types of SLIT – tablets and drops – but the only forms that are currently approved by the FDA are tablets for ragweed, grass pollen, and dust mites.

Allergy sufferers are typically allergic to more than one allergen. Shots can provide relief for more than one allergen, while SLIT treatments are limited to a single allergen. In addition, allergy shots have been proven effective in treating allergies to ragweed “relatives” like avocado, melon, and some other fruits. It is unclear whether the new allergy tablets for ragweed will offer this protection.

Ragweed is the biggest allergy trigger in the fall. Ragweed usually starts releasing pollen with cool nights and warm days in August and can last into October or until the first hard frost. Most people who are allergic to spring plants are also allergic to ragweed. Luckily, ragweed is one of the pollens that can be treated with both allergy shots and tablets.

Preventing allergic reactions

While you treat your symptoms, you should also know what’s causing your allergies because, if possible, you want to avoid the allergens in daily life. The first line of defense is to avoid triggers. After spending time outdoors, you should shower, change, and wash your clothes. Be sure to also keep your car and home windows closed. When you do go outside, wear a hat and sunglasses to keep pollen out of your eyes.

If you suffer from any seasonal allergies, see a board-certified allergist now to begin treatment for the fall. Allergists are trained to diagnose and treat your symptoms, and to work with you to create an individual action plan so you can live the life you want.

If you think you might be one of the more than 50 million Americans who suffer from allergy and asthma, find an allergist in your area with the Find an Allergist tool on the ACAAI website.

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