How long until allergy shots really become worth it?
February 25, 2015 9:23 AM   Subscribe

I've been getting allergy shots for three years. Sometimes I feel as if they have made a minor impact, but most of the time I think it is an inconvenience with very little benefit. Please help me decide if I should continue. Details inside.

It's coming up on the time of year where my my allergist is going to ask me if I want to continue, because the vials expire after one year. I am not sure what to say.

Specific details about the shots, if you are interested: I've had 3 years of shots for 5 specific allergens: cat, dog, dust mites, mold and maple trees. I get 5 separate shots, there is no combination of allergens in a single vial. I've been on the maintenance dosage for all of them for slightly under 2 years (so it took over a year to hit the maintenance dose). I get the shots once every 3 weeks at this point. I still get giant welts on my arms every time I get the injections, but once I reached maintenance the wheals are generally* smaller than a silver dollar within 24 hours. (That is my allergist's threshold for a severe enough reaction to need to lower the dosage to avoid anaphylaxis.)
*I did have a large local reaction to the dust mites shot in the fall, like a palm sized local reaction that lasted more than 24 hours and necessitated a permanent reduction in the amount of that allergen I get now. That's never happened

I've heard that people getting immunotherapy really notice after about a year. I have not yet experienced this epiphany. I was retested (with the dreadful skin prick tests) last spring and there was *some* minor improvement in the allergens I am being treated for, but it was definitely not an overwhelming improvement. I still take (and need) an antihistamine daily and use flonase and Azelastine decongestant nasal spray.

The problem with stopping is if I decide hey, they actually were helping and want to restart them, I need to do the whole weekly ramp-up tolerance from the weakest solution to the strongest one, and that will take about a year. I definitely don't want to do that again. I know that some people aren't helped by the shots. I have been helped a little bit. Is that enough to keep getting them?

Yes, I will be asking the allergist about this, but I wanted to hear some real-world experiences to help me decide as well.
posted by 8dot3 to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I noticed a difference almost immediately, like within a month for sure.
posted by something something at 9:28 AM on February 25, 2015

Best answer: I don't know if this is helpful, because you've lasted longer than I did, but I've never regretted stopping allergy shots. Instead, I invested the time and money in allergy-proofing my house. After swapping carpets for hardwoods, dust mite proofing the bedroom, and otherwise reducing my allergen load, I improved so much. After a few years, I was able to have a dog again, even. I still have a Flonase and Astelyn prescription, but I only have to use them a few weeks a year. A year or two of aggressively treating sinus infections, which always exacerbated my allergies, also seems to have broken the decades-long severe allergies.
posted by instamatic at 9:37 AM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

I know that some people aren't helped by the shots. I have been helped a little bit. Is that enough to keep getting them?

I've had allergies almost my entire life - and pretty severely to anything green. My experience was similar to yours. Personally, I quit getting the shots. It just wasn't worth the pain and trouble. Opinions will vary, of course, but people I know who have responded well to the shots report big improvements that I just didn't experience.

Which is poop, because allergies suck ass.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:41 AM on February 25, 2015

Seconding the home allergy-proofing epiphany. You may have already done this, as had I, but I moved across the country where the allergenic environment is a bit different and so I put a lot of cash and effort into making my house pretty rock solid for my needs. Like you, I have a massive massive dust mite (poop) allergy. I ripped up all the carpet, used a glossy paint on almost all surfaces (easy to swab without leaving residues behind), and upgraded my bedding allergy covers to some pretty top notch stuff. That alone was my best investment, and something I wish I'd done years earlier.

Allergy shots are such a difficult choice when you're not feeling like you're seeing significant benefit. It feels like something you should do, and so we can end up doing it out of, I dunno, personal guilt? Moving for me was the impetus that made me give it some real critical consideration, and although I still occasionally think about starting again, I'm rather glad that I stopped long enough to make the investments in my home (sleeping) environment.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:42 AM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm in year 3, and faced a similar decision recently. I noticed improvement within the first year, although we ended up having to go much slower because of a pregnancy and then increased sensitivity post-pregnancy. My biggest allergen and also best improvement is to dust mites, but I still do get seasonal things that pop up. Lucky me, I've got things specific to fall, spring, and also year-round. I opted to have the skin test re-done and then we added another shot based on that (mine are combined into 3 vials). It was at least partially informed by the fact that my current insurance plan covers the shots at 100%, so they don't cost me anything. The shot room is also right down from my workplace and operates on a "drop-in" basis. Are you having to pay for them? If they aren't making much difference anymore, and you've been at maintenance a while, I would likely considering quitting.
posted by bizzyb at 10:03 AM on February 25, 2015

I've had allergy shots four separate times in my life (I move a lot and allergens change depending on your locale). The first two sets didn't work at all; the shots weren't strong enough and/or I didn't get the shots for a long enough duration. By the third set I was totally convinced that the shots were placebo at best but I had such bad allergies I was going to try anything. The third set's allergist prescribed the highest concentrations of serum I'd ever had and after a year my allergies were much less and after the second year they were as reduced as they've ever been. I'm now a total believer and on my fourth set and going strong. I still have to take a daily antihistamine and nasal spray, though. But I don't want to tear out my eyes in the spring anymore and I have one or two actual colds per year instead of the allergy-induced "colds" I got at least one a month before.
posted by vegartanipla at 11:18 AM on February 25, 2015

My boyfriend got cluster shots and noticed really marked, life-changing improvement in symptoms around the time he hit maintenance dose (so after 4 months or so). I wonder if there might be something wrong with your serum?
posted by phoenixy at 12:35 PM on February 25, 2015

I also stopped getting the shots and allergy proofed my house like instamatic says. HUGE difference there. I had a bit of a flare up a few years after the allergy proofing so I now use a steroid spray (Flonase) and I wish I had spent my money on the nose spray rather than the shots. Between those two things I am completely allergy free. (I was allergic to grass and trees and feathers and hugely allergic to dust)
posted by sadtomato at 7:12 PM on February 25, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses, all.
I've done most of the allergy-proofing things already, but it was awhile ago and I could probably stand to revisit the list of recommended items. My insurance covers the shots, so it's not a money thing at this point.

I don't think there's anything wrong with the serums - I've had new serums every year since I started the shots. I certainly have local reactions when I get the shots, so it's not as if the serums are dead or just water or something.

The responses kind of confirmed what I suspected - for some people the shots work, and they are life-changing. I'm just not one of those people, I guess. Thank you for the input and for reminding me to look at the checklist for allergy-proofing in my house.
posted by 8dot3 at 9:19 AM on March 1, 2015

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