Author: Miriam K. Anand, M.D., FACAAI, FAAAAI http://www.allergyassoc.net
What’s the difference between an “allergy shot” and allergy shots?
Many people go to their primary care provider or even urgent care to get an “allergy shot” in the Spring.
Sometimes also called a “snot shot”, these injections actually contain steroids. They can provide a “quick fix” for those miserable allergy symptoms, but are they the best solution?
While getting these injections a couple of times in your life may not be a big deal, getting them every year for many years may take a toll down the road.
You may know some people who talk about getting allergy shots every month or every week. These are not steroid shots.
These are “immunotherapy” shots. When we have allergies, it’s because our immune system is overreacting to things that should normally be harmless, like tree pollen. The purpose of immunotherapy is actually to retrain the immune system to be less bothered by those allergens. While not a cure, these types of allergy shots can reduce how bad your symptoms will be in future seasons, whereas the steroid shot will only give temporary relief for one season.
What are the side effects of steroid shots?
Steroids given “systemically” (as a shot or taken as pills) can get delivered to our entire body, not just the area where we have symptoms. They help allergy symptoms by temporarily decreasing the activity of the immune system. Systemic steroids are not side effect free, however. They can have short term and long term side effects.
Short term side effects are side effects that can occur shortly after the steroid is given or taken and include, but are not limited to:
- Rise in blood sugar levels (can be very serious for diabetic patients)
- Rise in blood pressure, which can lead to increased risk of stroke and heart attack
- Bleeding from the stomach
- Weight gain
- Increased pressure in the eye or glaucoma
- Emotional changes, such as becoming easily angry, but in severe cases can cause “steroid psychosis”
- Avascular necrosis – while rare, this can lead to cutoff of blood supply to a joint, such as the hip joint or shoulder joint. This can result in the need for joint replacement surgery.
Long term side effects can occur many years after receiving systemic steroids and are more likely to occur if one has had steroids repeatedly throughout their life. These can include:
- Growth suppression in children
- Suppression of the adrenal glands, which may become permanent in some cases
So when should steroid shots or pills be used?
Steroids can be very helpful in providing short term relief for bad allergy and asthma symptoms and are sometimes needed to get immediate control. They should not be your “go to” for treating allergies or asthma, however.
Allergies and asthma are controllable with medications that cause much fewer side effects. Using a steroid inhaler or nasal spray regularly causes a billion to a trillion times LESS steroid exposure to your body and can keep symptoms under control. They also target the areas where they are needed versus getting a large amount of steroid into the bloodstream that circulates through your body.
Immunotherapy shots may take a while to work, but can mean that future allergy seasons are much more tolerable for you or your child. Allergists/Immunologists, like those at Allergy Associates & Asthma, Ltd. have the most expertise in this type of treatment. If you dread certain times of year because you know you’ll be miserable and you are relying on steroid shots or pills to help you feel better, your best bet is to see an Allergist/Immunologist. We can help. It’s what we do.