How Are Allergy Shots Different From Medications?

How Are Allergy Shots Different From Medications?

More than 100 million people in the United States suffer from allergies, making it the sixth-leading cause of chronic illness in the country. Allergic reactions can range from mild discomfort to severe, life-threatening events. 

Allergy management involves the use of various treatments, including medications and allergy shots (also known as immunotherapy). Understanding the differences between these approaches helps you determine which option may be best for your condition. 

Here at Regional Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Center, with offices in Kingsport and Johnson City, Tennessee, and Abingdon, Virginia, we offer the following information to help you understand how each treatment works and their possible benefits.

Allergy medications

Medications typically provide symptomatic relief and control the immune response to allergens. 

Some common types of allergy medications include:

1. Antihistamines

We may recommend antihistamines to alleviate symptoms like sneezing, itching, and runny nose. These medications block the effects of histamine, a chemical released during allergic reactions.

2. Decongestants

Decongestants help reduce nasal congestion by narrowing the blood vessels in the nasal passages, making it easier to breathe.

3. Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids are available in various forms (nasal sprays, inhalers, and creams) and help to reduce inflammation and control allergic reactions by suppressing the immune system.

4. Mast cell stabilizers

These medications prevent the release of histamine and other chemicals from immune cells, thereby reducing allergic symptoms.

5. Leukotriene modifiers

Leukotriene modifiers block leukotrienes, substances that contribute to allergic reactions and inflammation.

We usually recommend you take medications to manage symptoms. We adjust the type and dosage based on the severity of the allergic response.

Allergy shots

Allergy shots, or allergen immunotherapy, involve a series of injections. These injections contain a small amount of your known allergens. The goal of allergen immunotherapy is to modify or desensitize the immune system's response to these allergens. 

The treatment typically involves two phases: build-up and maintenance.

Build-up phase

During this phase, you receive increasing doses of allergens through regular injections, typically 1-2 times per week.

The doses start very small and gradually increase over several months, allowing your immune system to adapt.

Maintenance phase

Once the effective therapeutic dose is reached, patients transition to the maintenance phase, where they receive injections at more extended intervals (usually once a month).

This phase helps you maintain the desensitization and symptom relief achieved during the build-up phase.

Differences between the treatments

Medications manage symptoms by altering the immune response temporarily, providing relief from allergic reactions. Allergy shots, however, work to modify the immune system's response by gradually desensitizing it to specific allergens, resulting in long-term symptom reduction and potential cure.

The treatments also vary in duration and use. Medications are typically used on a daily basis to manage symptoms and are self-administered orally, topically, or via inhalation. 

Allergy shots require a more intensive schedule initially. You need to commit to repeated visits to our office during the build-up phase to receive the injections. 

Medications can effectively provide symptom relief, but they don’t alter your underlying allergic condition. Allergy shots are more of a long-term solution, potentially reducing or eliminating the need for medications and reducing allergy symptoms and preventing the development of new allergies.

We offer both allergy shots and medications to help you manage allergic reactions. Which option you choose depends on the severity of your allergy, its type, and your long-term treatment goals. 

Reach out to one of the offices of Regional Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Center to learn about the treatments available to you. Call our office or send us a message here on our website to book an appointment.

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