Allergy Testing.. Allergy shots.. Quackary?

My SO went in today to get “allergy testing” and they told her all of these things she is allergic too. They are telling her that she can take a shot, every week or so for 2-5 years and there is a likely-hood she will develop an immunity to the allergy.

Now, from what I understand about allergies, they aren’t like virus’ that once you have an attack from one kind, you are immune to it. In fact it is opposite, right? The attack of the immune system is what causes it?

Anyway, sounds like a crock to me, but what is the straight dope? Are they trying to get a bunch of money off her for something that may not pan out?

I understand that data is not the plural of anecdote, but I have tried various ways to control my hay fever and immunotherapy (allergy shots) is by far and away the most effective thing I’ve done. I’ve been doing the shots for, eh, two and a half years now. Accupuncture (which I intellectually consider to be quackery) seemed to work for me for short periods, different drugs worked to various extents, but there has been a slow and consistent improvement in my relief of allergies which used to effect me nearly year-round (with the exception of winter).

Beware of the cost, though. Some folks have to pay $10, $20, or $40 for each visit for the shots, and you start off going weekly. Fortunately my workplace has a medical office that gives them to me for free, I just need to get the serum from my HMO.

In any case, here’s some doctors commenting on immunotherapy. It appears that different allergies have different levels of success (hay fever: good option; food allergies: no good).

http://www.aafp.org/afp/20040815/689.html
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/allergy-shots/AA00017

I used to be allergic to just about everything. Alfalfa could send me into an asthma attack that would knock me out for hours. After several years of weekly shots, nothing bothers me now. Not even a twitch, even if I’m elbows-deep in hay. It works.

I’ve been getting shots for my allergies for almost 2 years now, and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.

As I understand it, allergies are the immune system ridiculously overreacting to something normally taken in stride. What the shots do is very, very, very gradually expose the immune system to tiny, tiny, tiny bits of the allergen, which are gradually increased over time, with the goal of getting the immune system to learn that the allergen is nothing to freak out over. It’s not quite the same as becoming immune like to a flu virus.

It’s a different kind of allergy injection, but I find cortizone helps my hayfever like nothing else.

Umm… when you say “allergy testing” with the cute air quotes, it probably means you should get a second opinion to ease your mind.

My husband had terrible asthma as a child, (he was very, very sick for a year in grade school, as home from school a goodly amount of the time) and his allergist gave him shots as part of the therapy. His asthma/allergies aren’t as bad as an adult due to the therapy he had as a child. It can make a difference.

Properly done, allergy testing is legitimate (there are a couple different ways to test) and shots are a legitimate treatment that can be highly effective. (I wish I had gotten my five-year course of shots a decade earlier than I did).

That said, like all legitimate medical treatment, it’s not perfect. There is a small subset of people for whom this does not work, and in many cases the allergy is reduced rather than entirely eliminated. However, the majority of patients feel that it is worth it. There is no way to know if a particular person is in that group until you try the treatment.

Immunotherapy for allergies does have a scientific basis, and has been shown to be of benefit for some folks.

Basically the goal is to induce a person to form more IgG antibodies to the allergen via exposure to low doses of the allergen in the shots. That way, the IgG will attack the allergen relatively quietly, rather than the IgE, which attacks the allergens in rather ‘sledge-hammer’ fashion. (Gross simplification, it’s lots more complicated than that)

I got shots for more than 20 years. It seemed to help, but it was also accompanied by topically applied steroids sprayed in my nose (first Beconase, then Flonase). I couldn’t tell you which worked better, but now all I need is Flonase.
I think the issue is also complicated by the fact that people seem to grow in and out of allergies. If my allergic reactions could not be controlled by medication, I would consider getting shots.

Allergy testing and treatment per se is definitely not quackery. I cannot cite statistics for how well it works, but it is mainstream medicine. Of course, in every field, all doctors are not equal. Remember, 50% of all doctors graduated in the bottom half of their class :smiley:

Treating allergies is just like treating anything else. The indicated treatment doesn’t always work, and OTOH sometimes the problems would resolve without the treatment anyway. But allergy sufferers should get professional treatment if the symptoms are bad enough and you have the resources to do it.

This isn’t evidence one way or the other, just a little story: I had severe allergies as a child and took shots from the age of 4 until 18, weekly during allergy season and every three weeks in the off-season. I improved over the first years of this but the last few years didn’t really show any improvement. By then I was an impatient college kid and just hated walking across campus every week to take the shots. I didn’t suddenly get worse. I still get allergy symptoms the first two weeks of May or thereabouts which I control with OTC meds. OTOH I was also severely allergic to cats as a child and by the time I was in my 20’s I had three of them with no symptoms. It is rather common to gain or lose allergies as one gets older.

I’m not entirely convinced her allergies are that bad, but I’m not the one with em. She has never complained before, and I have never seen puffy eyes, a runny nose or any other symptoms of allergies (she is talking ragweed, pollen, mold, etc). She sleeps a lot though, and says she has occasional headaches.

I’m not sure these are caused by allergies or her “popping her neck” 26 times a day.

edit: And I know of many people (college students, high school students, et al) that sleep a lot (9-12 hours when they can) that do not have allergies. (that they know of anyway)

Bolding mine. I know people who had horrible childhood allergies and have much less severe problems as adults, yet they did not have immunotherapy. Just saying.

Fatigue resulting in an almost narcoleptic sleep was one of my primary symptoms of seasonal allergies, FWIW.

I thought that I was the only one who was like this. I actually didn’t even know that this was a symptom, but it explains why I hibernate each February while my allergies go crazy.

I do immunotherapy, and it has helped me reduce the medication that I have to take during the allergy season. I had mild asthma as a kid with no allergies, but when I was about 19 or so, I developed pretty severe allergies to pretty much everything. My allergist told me that the only things I didn’t respond to for the skin testing were cockroaches and mold. So I guess I could live in a cave, or maybe take between 2 and 4 medicines daily. Or I could get some shots and see how it works. For me, it’s a world of difference. My asthma is under better control and I tend to get sick less often in general. I’ve been doing it for about 2 years now.

Just a thought: you may not be seeing symptoms of your SO’s allergies if she is taking antihistamines like benedryl. The problem is that a lot of antihistamines make you sleepy. One of the main reasons I wanted to try shots is because the nasal sprays didn’t help my breathing, and antihistamines usually make me loopy (except fexofenidine).

However, to answer your question, yes, it doesn’t work for everyone. I’m lucky that I have good insurance that pays for everything, so it was worth a try. If I had to pay for each shot, I would have been less willing to try it, especially because it take can a rather long time to get any positive result. In my case, I started feeling a difference after about 6 months of weekly shots.

I did allergy shots off and on for several years in the late 1980s / early 1990s and I do believe they helped with the seasonal allergies. I used to be the person who made the entire office tremble when I sneezed - all day, every day. These days I have far less trouble with the hayfever-type allergies than I used to. So the shots did give me long-lasting relief.

It’s possible the relief is finally wearing off; I’ve had more trouble in the past couple of years.

Oh - and they did not improve my reactivity to cats, dammit :frowning: Apparently they don’t necessarily work that well for animal allergies. So we’re a zero-feline household, wahhhhh.

Add me in as another person who is on a weekly regiment of allergy shots. I’ve been doing it for a little less than a year, and the only sign of my usual seasonal allergies for this time of the year has been an occasional sneeze. This is a vast improvement over each year since I developed the allergies back in, oh, maybe middle school. Based on my personal experience, the shots are certainly worth it.

Although I don’t get it quite that badly, I also notice that I am much much sleepier during birch pollen season when my allergy is active. I’m never sure whether the “non-drowsy” medicines still make me sleepy, or whether it’s just the allergy itself that’s knocking me out…

I also tend to have a stuffy but not necessarily runny nose, itchy eyes but not puffy ones (though they’re frequently red), and itching inside my mouth and ears. Inside my body I have no problem knowing I have an allergic reaction going on, but looking at me from the outside you might just think I need to go to bed earlier…

No experience with the shots. I’ve considered them, but I keep chickening out.

That’s me, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. I was badly allergic to grass seed and pet dander before there were shots. Perhaps you naturally get desensitized.

It’s not all bad - I never had to mow the lawn when I was a kid. :slight_smile:

Oh, and I don’t remember hearing anyone else mention this, so I’ll add: the shots themselves are nothing. They go into the subcutaneous fat layer, so the needles barely even feel like a mosquito bite. They usually give me mine into the triceps area of my upper arms (I don’t know about anyone else, I get two shots each time, and they alternate which serum goes into which arm – I think it’s to help track if one starts giving me problems).

Epimetheus, if she’s allergic to dust and doesn’t want shots, she might want to read *My House is Killing Me *. The scratch test said I’m a “4” for dust, but by following the book’s advice I’ve been able to reduce most of my symptoms.