Ask Surly Amy: Allergy Shots

Dear Surly Amy,
What’s the scoop on allergy shots? The year I spent on the maintenance dose was the sickest I’ve ever been in my life. I just moved to a new state and am pondering whether to start them up again. Are they really the amazing cure-all my allergist seemed to think they were?

Dear Megan,

As you know, I’m not a doctor but I’m still I’m pretty darn sure that there is no such thing as an amazing cure-all. However, allergy shots can be an effective treatment in many cases.

I am allergic to a lot of things. A few years back I went to an allergy specialist and was tested. I came up positive to every blooming tree that grows in my area, and to dust mites and almost every furry critter- but for some reason, not bunny rabbits.

Bunny is my friend! Those plants, not so much. (Photo via

So I completely understand your frustration with allergies.

When discussing allergens, allergy shots can be very effective in helping your body build up an immunity, over time. My understanding is that it takes many years on allergy shot maintenance doses- up to five or six before your body has built up tolerance to see a true difference, or in a sense a ‘cure.’ So the year you spent not feeling well could have happened for any number of reasons and can’t necessarily be correlated with the shots themselves.

Allergy shots are a form of immunotherapy and work by being fine tuned to the particular person’s allergies. A tiny bit of each allergen a person reacts to, is mixed into a shot, that is given regularly on a slowly increasing level until a maintenance level is achieved so that your body can naturally build up a tolerance and thus you will- over time- have less of an extreme immune response to the allergens you come in contact with. Then the shots are given, usually monthly for up to six years.

From the Mayo Clinic:
“Allergy shots are a form of treatment called immunotherapy. Each allergy shot contains a tiny amount of the specific substance or substances that trigger your allergic reactions. These are called allergens. Allergy shots contain just enough allergens to stimulate your immune system — but not enough to cause a full-blown allergic reaction.

Over time, your doctor increases the dose of allergens in each of your allergy shots. This helps get your body used to the allergens (desensitization). Your immune system builds up a tolerance to the allergens, and your allergy symptoms diminish over time.”

amy back allergy test
This is what my back looked like during my allergy test.

A popular reason for getting allergy shots is to build up an immunity from dangerous allergens such as insect stings. Another reason to get allergy shots is so you can eventually stop taking allergy medications which may interact with other drugs you have to take for other conditions. The most popular reason for getting allergy shots is that allergies totally SUCK. And when you have multiple allergies, your body is having an unnecessary, overactive immune response to so many things that you leave yourself open to other ailments because your body is run down from fighting the allergies. Which could explain why you, Megan where sick a lot. Not because of the shots themselves, but because your body was worn down because of your allergies. Also, I should note that sadly, often the most dangerous allergens, the one’s that are most often associated with anaphylactic shock– foods, can not be treated with allergy maintenance shots.

Also, if you move, as Megan mentioned she had, you have to get retested for your allergies. There are so many potential allergens in the world that when maintenance shots are given, they are fine tuned to a specific areas. A tree that grows in Southern California, for example, may not grow in Northern California. So if you were on maintenance doses in one area, you will likely have to start again from the beginning in another area.

I hope this was helpful. Do talk to your doctor for more information and good luck with those allergies!


Sorry, my terrible insurance policy wouldn’t pay for my allergy shots. So sadly, I am still taking generic Benedryl when needed. *falls asleep at desk.

Got a question you would like some Surly-Skepchick advice on? Send it in! We won’t publish your real name, unless you want us to and creative pseudonyms get bonus points! Just use the contact link on the top left of the page.

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. Bees! You can get shots for bees, which can be a lifesaver. Sadly, the allergy shots I took as a child have “worn off” so I now have to carry an epi pen. Last time I had a sting without an epi pen, in less then 10 minutes I had started to “blow up” and was having trouble breathing. I actually drove to the local fire EMT station where I got a lovely ambulance ride. $1000 later I’m fine. (I don’t complain, it saved my life). I really need to do the bee shots again, because even with the epi pen, you need to get to a hospital.

  2. When you move to another place the allergens change, so it may take time to react to them.

    As an Army brat I moved around lots and in many different climates (California coast, middle of Texas, Panama Canal Zone, etc). It took going to college for me to start swelling up in the spring time, and that is when I got tested and started shots. Fortunately as I have aged, my face has stopped swelling up each spring, so it is getting better.

    I have been told I need to “boost my immune system.” I usually reply that it is my immune system that is trying to kill me! Which almost happened when visiting some relatives and they started up the swamp cooler for the first time. The release of mold into the air almost closed off my airway (and an ambulance was called, but fortunately calming me down helped).

  3. I did allergy shots for about 10 year. Best thing I ever did. Still stuck with the food allergies, but my quality of life is SO much better, especially in the spring. :)

    That said, allergy shots don’t seem to work for everyone. Not an expert, but I think it has a bit to do with the allergist and technique. For example, I wasn’t getting results from my HMOs allergist, but they only did a “one dose fits everyone”. I ponied up the bucks for an outside allergist who did much more extensive testing and made the dose fit the reaction. Well worth it.

      1. It says I’m typing in the wrong username, then it gives me the option to change my password via email as though it was the password I got wrong. This has happened multiple times, before the new format came along. It does not recognize luna nor my email address (which normally works).

  4. Anyway, I recommend trying local honey. Do so under a doctor’s supervision as it can sometimes cause allergy attacks at first. Aside from one study in Finland that suggests it could help allergies, the honey connection has been misunderstood to be about “immunity” via pollen. Actually it’s more likely it’s a compound called quercitin in the honey, which is a bit like taking Benadryl. Some people swear by honey, make sure it’s not supermarket bought as it’s often stored at the wrong temperature. I had very severe allergies and asthma for 2 years until I began taking honey, now I’m 12 years in with no attacks whatsoever.

    1. Just to expand on the “immunity” from honey… Much of the idea of eating honey comes from a misunderstanding of how allergy shots work. Most folks think that the shots ‘get your body used to it’. They actually train and call to action another part of your immune system that can tromp the aggressors w/o the cold-like side effects. So, strike 1 against the idea of honey.
      Strike 2: Natural allergies to plants are mostly from airborne pollen. Bees don’t deal with airborne pollen.
      Strike 3: If you get past 1 & 2, you still have to explain how the proteins and whatnot survive digestion and make it to somewhere that they can influence the immune system in a useful way in a useful form.

      I’ve never heard of quercitin, and a quick search seemed to given an inconsistent view, and no real dosing. Anyone know any research? I’d personally argue that something like this would be more effective for folks with milder allergies. For folks w/ more severe allergies, even strong meds will do no more than take the edge off during season.

      1. Um, I thought I made it pretty clear that the “immunity” hypothesis was shot down. So strike three for you. It’s about the quercetin. I don’t know what quack sites you’re visiting with your lazy “quick search”, but below is the study from Finland and an explanation of quercetin which is a more feasible explanation of why it may help allergies and is worth more research.

  5. A good friend of mine did allergy shots for a few years for her seafood allergy. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for some. Sounds like there’s progress on the shots for food allergy front!

  6. Hey, like the new comment system otherwise. Replies work great!

    I meant to say also: stinging nettle capsules are worth a try, for me they’re like Benadryl but with zero side effects. Even better – my favorite remedy has been the “mechanical” way. Take more showers. Yes it’s a bit wasteful, but the showers can be short and will save you tons of misery. Take one before bed time. Pollen attaches to your eyes and mucosal surfaces (like inside your nose). This causes much of the severe misery. Nasal rinses and showers have seriously reduced my allergy problems.

  7. Both my kids are allergic to trees, grass, weeds, dust mites and mold. Oldest is also allergic to cow milk protein. Both had shots, oldest every two weeks from age 5 through 18, youngest every three weeks from age 3 through 18. Both are adults now, the oldest will still have some issues in the spring and fall, the younger not so much. The oldest still has issue with anything containing milk or casein.
    I take antihistamine for mine, but I don’t have the mold and dust mite so don’t have trouble year round and never did shots.

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