Allergy Shots: Liberation from Suffering

Article excerpt

Jen Waters is a writer for The Washington Times.

Paul Schneider sneezes and wheezes and itches on a regular basis. He has a hypersensitive immune system, leaving him with multiple allergies. To control his allergic reactions, Schneider, 43, of Falls Church, Virginia, receives allergy shots every three to four weeks. Since starting the therapy in the 1980s, his body has built a tolerance for mold. Although his reaction to other allergens, such as certain trees, grasses, and pollen, has improved, he still needs the shots for those substances.

"Before I came [to the doctor] for allergy shots, I was a real case," Schneider says. "I'd wake up in the morning and my mouth would be itchy, and my nose would run, and my eyes would water. ... I would get hives occasionally on my body everywhere."

Allergy shots, or immunotherapy, are an effective tool in improving the quality of life for many allergy sufferers by building immunity to specific substances. Although shots for food allergies are controversial and uncommon, immunotherapy for airborne substances is widespread and effective for most persons.

The immune system of a person with allergies acts as though a particular substance or allergen is harmful, and the body creates antibodies to attack the invading material, says Dr. Stephen J. Wall, otorhinolaryngologist at Washington D.C. Ear, Nose, Throat & Allergy Center.

When the immune system is alerted to the allergen, chemicals also are released from other blood cells. This reaction can cause the symptoms of allergies, such as sneezing, congestion, itchy eyes and ears, wheezing, coughing, rash, shortness of breath, sinus problems, or a sore palate. "Some people think their immune system is not working if they have allergies, but it's overaggressive," Wall says. "Allergies create flulike symptoms ... but the flu is over in a week. ... Symptoms from allergies can be with you for an extended period of time."

It is hoped the purified form of the allergens in allergy shots will prevent the allergen from eliciting symptoms when the person is exposed, Wall says.

Shots usually are taken on a weekly basis for three to six months. Then, the patient receives maintenance doses as needed, about every two to four weeks. The severity of the symptoms determines how often and how long the patient takes the shots. Patients generally take the shots for two to five years.

Although a person can be allergic to almost any substance, the most common allergens include molds, pollen from trees and grasses, dust mites, pet dander from cats and dogs, stings from wasps and bees, industrial and household chemicals, and medicines. Some people also are allergic to foods such as milk, eggs, peanuts, and shellfish.

Marie Bonkowski, 42, of Washington, D.C., is allergic to pollen and dust. She also has "hidden" food allergies--which produce delayed symptoms--to wheat, soy, and corn. She has been receiving allergy shots since 1992 and is now a patient of Wall's. Although the easiest way to avoid symptoms related to food allergies is to avoid the food, Bonkowski takes shots for her food allergies because the substances are harder to avoid than a single item, such as shrimp.

The food shots and food drops she takes were developed by Wall's former colleague, Dr. …