Have no fear, allergy shots are not as scary for kids as you think. “Allergy shots” are actually allergen immunotherapy. This method of therapy treats allergies and allergic asthma by desensitizing patients to their specific allergens. Allergy shots have been administered to patients for more than 100 years! When a child has a runny, itchy nose, sneezing and watery eyes, parents commonly reach for over-the-counter or prescription medications. While these medications can be effective for a majority of children, they simply and temporarily cover up symptoms. Allergy shots work differently. Allergen immunotherapy shots alter the immune system. Over time, this results in blocking allergic reactions from occurring at all, or significantly reducing their severity. It is a long-term solution for allergy management. However, before signing up your child for allergy shots, many important questions should be addressed. What is in an allergy shot? Allergen immunotherapy shots are injections of small concentrations of allergens to which your child is allergic. Thus, a child who is allergic to dust mites will receive a solution containing actual dust mite protein in his shots. Initially, concentrations of the allergen will be very dilute. Gradually over time, the concentrations will increase. This method allows the body to become tolerant to the allergen, and not severely react to it. Most patients will receive injections containing multiple allergens to which they are allergic. The number of shots received at one time will depend on the number of allergens your child is sensitized to. Typically, however, he may receive anywhere from 1 to 4 injections per visit. Would my child benefit from allergy shots? Allergy shots will desensitize your child to his allergies. Your child will be able to tolerate exposure to things to which he is allergic, with minimal or no symptoms. Allergen immunotherapy for indoor and outdoor allergens has a success rate of 75-85%. It‘s a great option for children who cannot or prefer not to take medications on a long-term basis and for children who do not have good control of their symptoms despite medication. When started early in life, allergen immunotherapy can also prevent the development of asthma, and reduce the progression of asthma severity. Allergen immunotherapy for stinging insect venom (bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, and fire ants) is highly effective. Venom immunotherapy has a 90% success rate in preventing future sting reactions. It is recommended for children who have had life-threatening anaphylaxis after a sting. Allergy shots cannot be used to treat food allergies due to the high risk of life-threatening reactions. How old does my child have to be to start allergy shots? Most allergists agree that the earliest age to start immunotherapy is 5-6 years old. It’s important for your allergist to take into consideration the cooperation of your child when receiving shots, and his ability to communicate any side effects and adverse reactions. How long will my child need shots? Allergen immunotherapy should not be confused with steroid shots, which some doctors use to temporarily treat severe allergy symptoms. Steroid shots may be given to highly allergic patients once a year, during a bad allergy season. This is in sharp contrast to allergen immunotherapy. Allergen immunotherapy typically requires six months of weekly injections, however the specific timeline will depend on your allergist’s preference. The period of weekly shots allows for a safe and gradual increase in the concentrations of allergen injection. After receiving the maximum concentration, shots will be increased to monthly, for a total of 3 to 5 years. Most patients choose to stop shots after that time, but the effects continue to be long lasting. Are there risks from allergy shots? When done correctly, allergy shots are generally safe. It is common to develop warmth, redness and minor swelling at the site of the injections. This occurs as your body is developing an expected immune response to the shots. Uncommonly, more concerning symptoms can occur. Severe allergic reactions (systemic reactions or anaphylaxis) can develop after injections and thus, any patient receiving allergy shots must wait at the physician’s office for a minimum of 30 minutes for observation. Such reactions can include hives, wheezing, coughing, throat swelling, and low blood pressure. It’s essential to report any symptoms right away so that your doctor can treat your child immediately with any necessary medications. Patients with a history of asthma are at an increased risk of systemic reactions. It’s key that asthma is well controlled before receiving allergy shots. Shots should not be administered if a patient is sick or asthma is flaring. Your child’s allergist should provide information regarding the indications, risks and benefits of allergen immunotherapy specific for your child. Happily, the process of receiving allergy shots can be made as painless as possible and can open up a new world of allergy-free living for you and your child.