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A shot to prevent sneezes?

Allergy shots have been around for decades. But millions of Americans aren't getting the relief they can offer.

Every year, millions of Americans kiss their good health goodbye during allergy season. Allergy shots could be the key to parting with allergies instead.

What are allergies?

An allergic reaction happens in response to a certain substance or material called an allergen.

Allergens are normally harmless substances that only cause reactions in people who are allergic to them. Your immune system mistakes the allergen for a dangerous invader. It produces antibodies to fight off the "intruder."

These antibodies signal certain cells to begin the process of itching, sneezing and mucus production. It's the perfect reaction against a virus or bacteria, but if it happens all year or throughout an entire season, it's more like a curse.

How can shots help?

Allergy shots work by exposing the body to small amounts of an allergen over a long period of time. This makes your system less and less sensitive to the cause of your allergies.

The process begins with a shot once or twice a week for a number of weeks. Many people notice fewer allergy symptoms after six months or so, at which time they may switch to a schedule of just one shot a month. Shots usually are stopped after about three to five years.

Who can get them?

Allergy shots work best for people who have allergies that can be specifically identified, such as pollen and insect venom. People with year-round allergies and those who have strong side effects from allergy medications are also good candidates.

Who shouldn't get them?

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, allergy shots may cause problems for people with severe asthma or heart problems. People who take beta blockers for heart problems shouldn't have allergy shots. And neither should children 4 years of age or younger, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

You should not start allergy shots when you're pregnant, although, with your doctor's permission, it may be all right to continue shots if you've been getting them for some time.

Also, keep in mind, if you're allergic to something you can avoid—pet dander, for example—you probably don't need shots. And, if your allergies only kick in for a week or two out of the year, you might prefer using medications during that time instead of taking shots throughout the year.

Talk with your doctor

If you have allergies, talk to your doctor about available treatments. Even if shots aren't the answer, prescription medications are more effective and have fewer side effects than ever before.

Reviewed 9/7/2022

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