Tips and Tools: Allergy shots

If you have allergies, you've probably thought about getting "allergy shots" -- officially called allergen immunotherapy -- or maybe your allergist has suggested them to you. But are all those needles worth it? For many people, the answer is "yes."

Like a vaccination, immunotherapy allows you to gain immunity to the things you're allergic to. That way, your body won't overreact when you're exposed to these triggers, or allergens -- and your symptoms won't be as bad.

But you have to be patient! Immunotherapy starts by injecting only a tiny amount of the allergen vaccine, then raising the concentration a bit each week, depending on how sensitive you are. It can take four to six months of weekly jabs to reach the highest concentration, called the maintenance dose. This dose is given every one or two weeks, eventually spreading out to three or four weeks, continuing for three to five years or longer.

The good news? After all that, people are usually much less sensitive, so they don't need as much medication -- sometimes even none at all -- and can have a more normal life. Experts are now saying that immunotherapy is especially helpful for people with asthma, whose attacks are often triggered by allergens.

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