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If you have severe allergies, you or your allergist might have considered allergy shots. But are all those needles worth it?

If you have severe allergies, you or your allergist might have considered “allergy shots” – officially called allergen immunotherapy. But are all those needles worth it? For some people, the answer is “yes.”

Like a vaccination, immunotherapy allows you to gain “resistance” or immunity to the things to which you’re allergic. That way, your body won’t overreact when you’re exposed to these triggers, or allergens, and your symptoms won’t interfere as much in your daily activities.

However, the therapy might require patience on your part. Allergen immunotherapy is not a one-time injection, but rather a series of shots. It starts when a doctor or allergist injects a tiny amount of the allergen, and then increases the amount of allergen injected each week, depending on how sensitive you are. It can take 4 to 6 months of weekly injections to reach the amount that is needed for immunity, which is called the maintenance dose. This dose is given every 1 or 2 weeks, eventually spreading out to every 3 or 4 weeks, and continuing for 3 to 5 years or longer.

The good news? After this process, people are usually less sensitive, so they don’t need as much allergy medication – sometimes even none at all – and can enjoy their daily activities more easily. Allergy shots may be needed for people who are exposed to a lot of allergens (e.g., pollen, dust mites) and they can’t avoid them, or when allergy symptoms are so severe that allergy medications can’t control them. Experts suggest that immunotherapy is especially helpful for people with asthma because their attacks are often triggered by allergens.

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