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Immunotherapy

What is immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy, or "allergy shots", are injections of purified material that you are allergic to. By exposing your body to this material in a controlled way, we hope to "turn down" the allergic reaction. It's a way to train your body not to react as strongly to the substance you are allergic to. The shots will not cure you. But they should mean that you have less severe symptoms and will need less medication.

How often to I have to come in for shots?

There are two phases of therapy.

Phase I: Weekly Injections for 5-6 Months

During the first phase, sometimes called the build-up phase, you will need injections every week. This phase usually takes 5-6 months to complete. If you skip a week or more, the build-up phase will probably take longer. You will have more effective results and faster relief if you get your injections once a week during the build-up phase.

Phase II: Monthly Injections for 3-5 Years

The second phase is maintenance. You need shots once a month during this phase. Most doctors recommend maintenance shots for 3-5 years. Then you and your doctor can talk about stopping the injections. Relief of symptoms can last for years after the shots are stopped. If symptoms come back, the shots can be re-started, beginning again at the build-up phase.

When are shots given?

Immunotherapy shots are given at the following times by appointment:

  • Mondays from 7:45 a.m. - 11:30 p.m.
  • Tuesdays from 7:45 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
  • Wednesdays from 8:00 a.m. - 11:30 p.m.
  • Thursdays from 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

What do I need to tell my doctor or nurse?

Each time you come to the practice, tell the nurse before you get your shot about any of the following. We may need to change or skip your dose based on this information:

  • Any local or systemic reaction that you had since your last injection
  • Any changes in your overall health, such as a cold, bronchitis, wheezing, or any new health problem
  • Any new medicines you are on
  • Any lifestyle changes, such as moving, or a family crisis
  • If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, tell your allergist right away. In most cases, you can still get your shots while you are pregnant, but the dose cannot be increased
  • You may have been instructed to take an antihistamine on the day of your shot to help minimize a local reaction. Please tell the nurse if you have forgotten to take this medication

What are the shots like?

The shots are given in the fatty part of the upper arm. A separate shot is given for each allergy. That is, if you are allergic to dust, cats, and pollen, you will get three shots.

Can I leave right after my shot?

No. After your shots, you must stay in the waiting area for at least 20 minutes. This allows us to watch for any reactions. Reactions can occur in any phase of therapy, even in the maintenance phase.

Reactions

If you are having any of the following symptoms after your shots, please let the nurse know right away:

Local Reactions (at the site where you got the shot)

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Itching
  • Hives

Systemic or Severe Reactions (reactions felt in other areas of the body)

  • Itching or numbness anywhere in the body
  • Tingling in the lips, hands, or feet
  • Tightness or irritation in the throat
  • Cough
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Shortness of breath

What instructions should I follow after my shots?

If you get any of the systemic or severe reactions listed above, go to the nearest emergency facility for help. If you are in severe distress or if you are alone, call 911 or your local emergency service. Call the practice as soon as possible to notify us of the reaction.

Please avoid strenuous exercise for 2 hours after your shots.

What about follow-up care?

You will need to see your allergist six months after you start immunotherapy. Your allergist will review your symptoms and medications with you. After 12-18 months of immunotherapy, you and your allergist will decide if immunotherapy is working for you.

While you are receiving immunotherapy, you will continue to see your allergist at least once a year. You and your allergist will review your symptoms and medications. If you have asthma, you should see your allergist at least every 6 months.

How do I get a refill for my allergy medicine?

  • Call the practice (617-278-8100) Monday through Friday between 8:30 am and 4:30 pm to request your prescription.
  • We call prescriptions in to pharmacies on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Please allow enough time when requesting a refill so that you don't run out of medication.
  • When you call in for your refill, please have the following information ready:
    • Your name and hospital ID number or social security number
    • Your allergist's name - *Please note, we can only refill your prescription if you have seen your allergist within the past year
    • Your home and work phone numbers
    • The name and phone number of your pharmacy
    • The name of the medication

Contact Information

Allergy and Inflammation - Research
Department of Medicine
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Center for Life Science, 9th floor
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
617-723-4110
617-735-4115