An allergy is when the body's immune
system overreacts to a usually harmless substance. Things that cause allergic
reactions are called allergens. Common allergens include dust mites,
molds, pollen, pets with fur or feathers, stinging insects, and foods.
The body reacts to the allergen by releasing chemicals, one of which is histamine.
This release can cause symptoms such as wheezing, trouble breathing, coughing, a stuffy
nose, and more. Some allergic reactions can be serious.
The best way to prevent or control allergy symptoms is to avoid allergens. Allergists
(doctors who identify and treat allergies) look
for causes of an allergic reaction with skin
tests and blood tests. Based on
the test results, they can recommend treatments, including medicines and ways to avoid
If these treatments don't help, the allergist might recommend allergy shots.
How Do Allergy Shots Help?
Allergy shots help the body build immunity to specific allergens, so it's not as
bothered by them. Allergy shots also can help kids who have allergies andasthma have fewer asthma
Allergy shots contain a tiny amount of a purified form of the allergen causing
problems. Doctors increase the dose slowly over the first 3–6 months. This lets
the immune system safely adjust and build immunity to the allergens. This is called
the buildup phase.
The highest effective safe dose becomes a child's monthly maintenance dose.
Health care providers give this to the child for about 3 to 5 years. Most kids will
need fewer shots over time.
Some kids' allergy symptoms ease during the buildup phase. Others don't feel better
until they're into the maintenance phase. After years of getting allergy shots, some
may have lasting relief from symptoms.
Are Allergy Shots Safe?
Allergy shots given by a trained health professional are safe and effective. Kids
as young as 5 years old can get them.
Kids may have a small reaction near the site of the injection. This can happen
right away or within a few hours of the shot. Skin on the arm near the site may get
a little red, itch, and swell. Applying an ice pack to the area and giving the child
an antihistamine can help.
More widespread reactions, like hives
and itching all over the body, are less common. And more severe reactions (like wheezing,
breathing problems, throat swelling, and nausea) are rare. A serious reaction needs
treatment right away. That's why kids who get allergy shots are watched in the doctor's
office for about 30 minutes afterward.
Some other tips:
Kids should get allergy shots only under the supervision of an allergist/immunologist.
A child who is ill, especially with asthma or breathing trouble, should not have
allergy shots until the doctor says it's safe.
Before your child gets allergy shots, be sure to tell the doctor about any other
medicines your child takes.
How Can I Find an Allergist/Immunologist?
Ask your primary care doctor to recommend an allergist/immunologist. If a family
member or friend sees an allergist/immunologist, ask who they recommend. You also
can search online at:
Doctors give allergy shots with needles that are smaller than those used for most
childhood vaccinations, so they're less painful. Still, for some kids a shot can seem
scary. A parent's positive and supportive attitude can
help. Treatment goes much better when parents are confident and committed to the
While getting a shot, your child can squeeze your hand, sing a song, watch a video,
or use another distraction that will take the focus off the injection.
Understanding the benefits of allergy shots and how they work will help you and
your child accept them as routine.