Respiratory Allergy Shots for Children

Watching a child struggle with respiratory allergies can be difficult for parents. We all want the best for our children, but with so many options, it can be nearly impossible to choose the right treatment.

One option in particular is respiratory allergy shots for children, which takes a long-term approach to reducing allergy symptoms. Deciding on this treatment should be a decision between you and your child’s doctor, but it doesn't hurt to learn about allergy shots, as well as other options for relieving allergy symptoms...

child getting allergy shot

How Allergies Work

To fully understand allergy shots, you need to first understand how allergies work in the first place. Essentially, allergies are nothing more than an immune system in overkill. The immune system controls how your body fights invaders, such as bacteria and viruses that cause sickness. Sometimes your body misidentifies certain items as harmful, even when they are not. This is what we call allergies. Your immune system sees the invader and overreacts with an immune response by producing antibodies, which travel to cells that release chemicals, causing the allergic reaction.

It’s not completely understood why some people’s bodies react this way, but we do know that allergic reactions are, basically, a defense by your body against otherwise harmless substances.

Determining the Right Treatment

It can be hard to determine which is the right treatment for a child with allergies. In fact, it can be tough just to determine if patients have allergies at all. Whether or not your child is a candidate for allergy shots will depend on many factors, including age and the severity of their allergy symptoms.

Your child’s age will be important in making the decision, as will your child’s overall health and medical history. The doctor will also consider the severity of your child’s reactions and your child’s tolerance to specific medications that have been administered in the past.

Of course, the doctor’s decision will consider your opinions and preferences for treatment, as the parent’s input in these matters is always crucial.

Testing may be required to determine your child’s allergy triggers. Your doctor may decide to conduct skin testing, which places a small dosage of a specific allergen in an injection just under the skin. The allergic reaction is then monitored for about 20 minutes and if a reddish swelling occurs it is a positive sign that the patient has allergies to that substance.

After all the factors are considered, your child’s doctor will generally recommend one or a combination of three different plans to treat the allergies. These plans are avoidance, medication, and immunotherapy.


child sneezing from allergies

Understanding Allergy Shots

Allergy shots, which are also called immunotherapy, desensitization, and hyposensitization, are a type of treatment that is intended to reduce the allergic reaction to a specific allergen. These shots have been known to reduce the frequency and severity of allergic rhinitis, which is an allergic reaction to airborne substances. The treatment can also be used to improve symptoms from allergic asthma.

While the treatment is effective for many airborne allergens, it seems that it is less effective against mold allergies and has no known effect against food allergies.

Allergy shots are a series of injections that hold a solution containing a dose of the specific substance that causes the allergy, which is known as the “allergen.” (If someone has an allergy to house dust mites, dust mites are the allergen.) Depending on the person’s specific allergen, the dose may contain pollen, animal dander, and dust. The shot will not contain medications, such as antihistamines or corticosteroids.

Treatment generally starts with a weak dose that holds a tiny amount of the allergen. This initial injection is delivered about once or twice a week and is usually administered to the child into the back of the arm, in the fatty area. While some pain can be felt, this is usually not as painful as injections to the muscles, such as tetanus shots. As the weeks go by, the amount of allergens in the solution will be increased. The goal is that over time the child’s immune system will become less sensitive to the allergen by creating antibodies that block the immune system. When the strongest dose is reached, which can take as long as a year, the child should have developed less sensitivity to the allergen.

However, the process is not, at this point, completely over. It’s possible that allergic sensitivity will come back, so now the injections will continue on a monthly period. This is called the “maintenance dose,” and it will usually use the highest concentration of allergens.


Do Allergy Shots Work?

This begs the important issue of the effectiveness of allergy shots. Do they work?

If so, how effective are they at reducing or eliminating allergic reactions?

According to Stanford Children’s Hospital, somewhere between 80% and 90% of children will see improved symptoms with allergy shots, but it can take as long as a year and a half before real changes are seen. However, they say it is possible for children to experience a reduction in symptoms in as little as six months.


Side Effects of Allergy Shots

Like any type of medical treatment, there are potential side effects for allergy shots, and these side effects generally come in two categories: local side effects and systemic side effects.

Local reactions, as the name implies, are found at the specific spot where the injection is being administered. They can include simple redness and swelling where the shot was given, but they usually don’t last long and disappear after a few treatments. If the local side effects continue, the specific concentration of the solution or the schedule of treatment may be adjusted by the doctor.

Systemic changes involve reactions anywhere on the body, not just the injection point. They are essentially the same as the allergic reaction itself, and can include coughing, congestion, sneezing, hives, and even low blood pressure. While they are usually mild, severe reactions can be life threatening.


Other Medical Options for Children

Allergy shots are not the only way to treat allergies in children. In fact, there are many other methods that you can apply to your child’s health. While some are more effective than others, you should at least learn about these options before making a decision on immunotherapy.

Allergy medication is a common way to combat allergies in children, and you can find both over-the-counter medications and prescription medications. This is an effective way to control the symptoms of an allergy, and some are even recommended for children as young as six months old, although you should always be cautious when giving medication to a child who is extremely young, especially infants. Always talk with your doctor even if the label says it’s approved for certain ages.


Oral medications

Oral medications are antihistamines that block the substances that cause allergic reactions. This is a common way to fight many of the most typical allergic problems.

They work quickly and provide effective relief and can be used on and off during the pollen season, making them a must-have for many people who are bothered by hay fever.

Oral antihistamines are often the first defense against allergies. They are often effective but short-acting, so if symptoms are bad your child may need to take them as frequently as every four hours. However, there are longer-acting medications that can last as long as 24 hours. Some of these medicines also have a decongestant, which helps to improve breathing.

Generally, children will take oral medication before symptoms become severe. They can be taken before bed, which could ease symptoms in the morning, or they can be take on a regular basis throughout the day.


nasal spray for allergy relief

Nasal Sprays

If allergic reactions are causing breathing difficulty for your child, you may consider nasal sprays, which are steroid-based sprays that help fight inflammation. They can be in liquid form or aerosol puffs and can be used throughout the day by children to provide relief. Nasal sprays are known to reduce itching and congestion, but they may take a while to work and you’ll likely need a prescription. Here are some ways to relieve nasal congestion naturally.

If your child does use nasal sprays, it’s important that your child is using the medication properly. The spray needs to be directed away from the septum, which is the thin wall between the nostrils. If there is a thick mucus, this must be cleared first before the nasal spray can be administered.


Eye drops

Another option for your child’s allergies are eye drops, which are often a combination of antihistamines and mast cell stabilizers. Mast cells are the components that release the histamines, so if you place a barrier around these cells, you’ll have a smaller allergic reaction. Eye drops are especially effective for reducing itchy and watery eyes. However, if some mast cells are able to sneak past the stabilizers, the antihistamine is still available to control symptoms.


Avoidance is Often the Best Strategy

There is little argument that avoidance is by far the best strategy for reducing allergic reactions among patients. If you can eliminate allergic conditions or avoid the presence of the allergens, you will do a lot to avoid the reactions caused by these substances. But first, you have to know if the allergens are present.


Know the Air in Your Home and Outdoors

One of the most important steps to avoiding allergens is know what allergens are present inside and outside your home. Indoors, you can use testing kits to measure the quality of air in your home. There are kits that can be used to test for specific allergies, so once you know what substances are causing allergies, you can use this information to make choices on preventative measures. Allergen test kits can be used to measure many of the most common allergens, such as dust, pollen, mold spores, and airborne fibers. For outdoor air, you can find information from AirNow.gov. You can use the site for data on your area, which is useful if you have a child who is allergic to a common outdoor allergen, such as dust, smoke, or pollen.


Avoiding Outdoor Allergens

If your child has seasonal allergies, you should always pay attention to the pollen counts in your area so you know whether they are in danger of an allergic reaction. If pollen is particularly high, it may be best to keep your child inside; if they have to go out, make sure they are prepared with the right medications to counteract any problems. Pollen is particularly bad in the late summer and early fall, a time when grasses and weeds are releasing their pollen. Pollen levels are usually highest in the morning.

Molds are also a problem for people with allergies. Outdoor mold spores are generally highest during the fall months.


Avoiding Indoor Allergens

Indoors, you can make efforts to reduce the amount of allergens that are causing reactions for your children. If, for example, you child has a dust allergy, you should do your best to reduce the amount of dust in your home. This can be achieved through regular cleaning and vacuuming, and keeping the windows closed if outdoor air is high in dust. You’ll want to be particularly diligent to clean your child’s room. You should also store their extra beddings in sealed packages.

If your child has pet allergies, you’ll want to make sure there is less pet dander throughout the home. While you may not have to get rid of your pets, you will have to keep pets off furniture, and you may need to wash the pet regularly to keep dander low. If your child has pet allergies and you want to bring a pet into the home, consider “hypoallergenic” breeds that release less dander. (No breed of cat or dog is completely hypoallergenic, but some do shed less dander than others.) Make the child’s room a safe haven from allergens and by keeping any pets out of that area. The child and the pet may not like it, but it will help bring better health for your youngster.


Can the Development of Allergies be Avoided Entirely?

We’ve talked a lot about techniques to avoid reactions among people who are already allergic to certain substances, but is there a way to prevent these allergies from developing in children? Unfortunately, with the knowledge and technology we have today, there is no way to completely prevent the development of allergies, but there appears to be some steps parents can take to at least reduce the chances that a child will develop allergies at some point in their life.

Again, nothing guarantees that allergies won’t develop in young children, but the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) recommends that when a child is between four to six months of age, parents should use single-ingredient foods, which are typically made from fruits and vegetables.

They also say it is best to introduce foods one at a time. Foods should be introduced in this manner every three to five days to help with the infant’s development. After six months, you can start to introduce foods that are typically allergenic, such as eggs, dairy, peanut, and fish-based foods. It’s possible that delaying the introduction of these foods could increase the likelihood of allergies. All of this, however, applies to food allergies.

What about respiratory allergies with airborne allergens?

There is actually a connection between early childhood exposure to pet dander and the development of allergies. While more evidence is needed, there is a suggestion that children who come into contact with animals at an early age are more likely to develop allergies, but that belief is starting to reverse. More recent evidence, says the AAAAI, suggests that children exposed to pets, particularly cats and dogs, are less likely to have allergies later in life.


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