If you have allergies — or if someone in your family or at school has them — you have probably heard that one of the ways that doctors use to help make those allergies better is through allergy shots. Now, if you remember getting shots at the doctor for school and didn’t exactly enjoy the experience, you’re probably thinking, “No way!” right now. However, allergy shots can make life a lot easier for people who suffer from allergies — and it is estimated that around 50 million kids all over America have this problem!

Read on to learn more about allergy shots and why they can help.

Allergies in Brief

Before we talk about allergy shots, it’s good to mention just what allergies are.  Allergies happen when your immune system — which is in place to defend your body from viruses, bacteria and other things that can make you sick — overreacts to things besides bacteria and other bad stuff. It can react to things like dust mites, pollen from trees or grasses or mold. When this happens, you can get a runny nose, eyes that itch and water, a cough and a sore throat.  You can even feel sick to your stomach and throw up!  It is no fun — and it is a big reason why kids miss school.  That is why coming up with a plan to treat them is so important!

Allergy Shots are Not the First Line of Defense!

If you have allergies and are worried about allergy shots — relax!  While shots can help some kids, they are not actually the first line of defense against this problem. When you are diagnosed with allergies, the first thing your doctor will recommend that you do is try to avoid the allergen (the thing you are allergic to) to help the problem.  For instance, if you are allergic to pollen, your doctor might suggest that your parents check the pollen count every day and keep you inside on days when the count is high.  If you are allergic to dust, he might suggest that your parents clean the house and vacuum weekly, get rid of carpets and other “dust magnets” and buy a special air filter to take dust out of the air.  He also might suggest that you take antihistamines, which are special medications that help to keep away some of the annoying symptoms of an allergy attack.

Where Do Allergy Shots Fit In?

For some kids, just avoiding the allergens and taking antihistamines or other medications is enough to keep their allergies in check so that they don’t have major problems with them. However, for some kids, this approach is just not enough and they still will struggle with allergy symptoms like the ones we talked about above. For these kids, doctors will often recommend a course of allergy shots. These shots are meant to help make your immune system stronger and build up a tolerance for a certain allergen (such as pollen) so that your symptoms won’t be as bad and you won’t have allergy attacks as often.

How Do Allergy Shots Work?

When you get an allergy shot, the doctor is actually injecting a tiny amount of the thing that you are allergic to into your system.  This might sound a little crazy, but the dose is very small and increases gradually over the next 3-6 months.  Exposing your immune system to tiny amounts of the allergen will allow the system to build up a tolerance for it and make it less likely to overreact to it if, for instance, you go outside on a day when the pollen count is high. These are called build-up doses and they will start to make your immune system less reactive.

After the build-up dose is done and you are at a dose which your doctor thinks will be safe and effective, you will start to get a maintenance dose, which will stay more or less the same and which will help to maintain the immunity against whatever allergens are the problem for you.

The great thing about allergy shots is that, although you will have to get them pretty often (usually twice a week at first), this will not always be the case. Eventually, you will move up to only once a week, then once every two weeks.  Some kids even get their shots as seldom as once a month!  Another cool thing is that after 3-5 years, many people will get long-term relief from their allergies, even after they stop taking their shots. So relax — it won’t be for the rest of your life!!!!

A Little More About the Shots

Some kids do get a minor reaction to allergy shots, which includes redness, swelling and a feeling of itchiness at the injection site (where the shot has been given). However, this is usually pretty minor and sometimes an ice pack put on the site can make it feel better.  Some kids don’t have any reactions at all — and allergy shots are considered to be safe for kids as young as five years old. Sometimes you will get these shots at a doctor who specializes in allergies — called an allergist – and sometimes you will get them at your regular doctor’s office. Either way, they will usually have you sit out in the waiting room for about 30 minutes afterwards to make sure that you are not going to have a reaction — and they know how to treat you if you do.  In other words, it is entirely safe!

So now you have the low-down on allergy shots and know a little more about them.  They might sound scary, but they are safe and can help you to have fewer allergies attacks, even after the shots are done.  It is something to talk to your doctors and parents about if your allergies are making life difficult.