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Allergen: A substance that triggers an allergic reaction.

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Allergic Rhinitis: An allergy affecting the mucus membrane of the nose. Seasonal allergic rhinitis is often called "hay fever."

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Allergist: A doctor that diagnoses, treats, and manages allergy-related conditions.

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Ana-Kit: A device used to inject epinephrine during an anaphylaxis attack.

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Anaphylaxis: A life-threatening allergic reaction that involves the entire body. Anaphylaxis may result in shock or death, and thus requires immediate medical attention

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Animal dander: The small scales or pieces of skin, often containing proteins secreted by oil glands, which are shed by an animal. These proteins are the major causes of allergies to pets.

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Antibiotics: A class of medications used to treat bacterial infections. Certain antibiotics, such as penicillin, may cause an allergic reaction in some people.

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Antibody: A protein in the immune system that recognizes and attacks foreign substances in the body.

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Anticonvulsant: A medication used to prevent or treat seizures. Certain anticonvulsants may cause an allergic reaction in some people.

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Antihistamines: A class of medications used to block the action of histamines in the body and prevent the symptoms of an allergic reaction.

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Asthma: An inflammatory disorder of the airways, causing periodic attacks of wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath.

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Atopic dermatitis: A chronic skin rash, also known as "eczema," that often appears in the first few years of life.

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Basophil: An immune system cell that attaches to antibodies and circulates through out the blood.

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Beta-blockers: A class of blood pressure medications that ease the heart's pumping action and widen the blood vessels. Beta-blockers counteract the effects of epinephrine used for emergency treatment of anaphylactic shock and should not be used during immunotherapy.

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Bronchial tubes: The lower sections of the airway that lead into the lungs.

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Challenge test: A test used to confirm an allergy to specific substance. A doctor will administer small but increasing amounts of a suspected allergen until an allergic response is noticed. Due to the risk of anaphylaxis, this should only be performed under a controlled setting.

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Conjunctivitis: Inflammation of the conjunctiva, or the mucous membrane surrounding the eye. Also known as pinkeye.

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Contact dermatitis: An allergic reaction resulting from skin contact to an allergen.

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Corticosteroid: An anti-inflammatory medication used to treat the itching and swelling associated with some allergic reactions.

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Cromolym sodium: An anti-inflammatory nasal spray used to treat and sometimes prevent allergic rhinitis.

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Decongestants: A class of medications used for nasal congestion. Decongestants are available in oral doses, nasal sprays, or eye drops (for conjunctivitis).

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Dust mites: A microscopic organism that lives in dust.

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Eczema: See Atopic dermatitis.

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Eosinophil: A specific type of immune cell that can cause tissue damage in the late phase of an allergic reaction.

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Epinepherine: A medication used for immediate treatment of anaphylaxis by raising blood pressure and heart rate back to normal levels. Epinepherine is also known as adrenaline.

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EpiPen: A device used to inject epinephrine during an anaphylaxis attack.

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Heparin: A chemical released by basophils and mast cells that causes nearby tissues to become swollen and inflamed.

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Histamine: A chemical released by basophils and mast cells that causes nearby tissues to become swollen and inflamed.

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Hives: See urticaria.

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Hypertension: High blood pressure. When blood pushes against artery walls harder than normal.

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Immunoglobulin E: A type of antibody responsible for most allergic reactions.

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Immunotherapy: A series of shots that help build up the immune system's tolerance to an allergen.

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Insulin: A hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. Diabetics who take insulin derived from animals may have allergic reactions.

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Intradermal test: A test where an allergen is injected just underneath the skin. Intradermal tests are generally used when results from a skin prick test are unclear.

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Late Phase: The period 4 - 24 hours after exposure to an allergen where tissue damage may occur.

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Leukotrienes: Inflammatory substances that are released by mast cells during an allergic response or asthma attack.

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Lymphocyte: A specific type of immune cell that can cause tissue damage in the late phase of an allergic reaction.

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Mast cell: An immune system cell which attaches to antibodies and is located in the tissue that lines the nose, bronchial tubes, gastrointestinal tract, and the skin

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Neocromil sodium: An inhaled medication used to treat inflammation involved with asthma.

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Neutrophil: A specific type of immune cell that can cause tissue damage in the late phase of an allergic reaction.

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Otitis media: A middle ear infection. Otitis media with effusion occurs when fluid builds up within the ear.

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Radioallergosorbant Test (RAST): A blood test that measures the amount of IgE antibody produced when the sample is mixed with a specific allergen.

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Rhinitis: An inflammation of the nasal passageways, particularly with discharge.

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Sinusitis: An inflammation or infection of one or more sinuses. The sinuses are hollow air spaces located around the nose and eyes.

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Skin prick test: A test where a needle is used to scratch the skin with a small amount of allergen. A response can usually be seen within 15 - 20 minutes.

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Urticaria: Raised areas of the skin that are often red, warm, and itchy. Urticaria is also known as hives.

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Urushiol: An oil found on poison ivy, oak, and sumac.

Penny, age 35 (allergy shots)


There are people who think allergy shots are a great way to control allergies -- my mom is one of them. She is a nurse and has been taking allergy shots as long as I have. I, on the other hand, have not found them helpful at all. After many years of shots, this is definitely an informed opinion.

I was one of those kids whose nose was always running and whose eyes were always puffy. I went everywhere with my own stash of tissues and eye drops. My mom took me to an allergist for the first time when I was 5. He examined me and recommended removing my tonsils and adenoids. I enjoyed the post-surgery ice cream binge, but going under the knife did not help my allergies. That year, I started taking allergy shots; my mom decided that if shots could help relieve my allergies, they might also help with hers. She started taking shots along with me because she was just as eager for relief from allergies as I was.

For the next several years we both struggled to keep our allergies under control. I dutifully took my shots and my medicine, but my allergies continued to bother me. They gave me headaches and made my nose feel stuffy, but the medicines I took to counteract them made me feel drowsy and spaced out. Even the non-drowsy medicines like Sudafed did not help, because they prevented me from sleeping when I needed to.

As I grew up, mom and I were both still taking shots. When I moved away to go to college, I had to make a change. If I wanted to continue taking allergy shots, I would have to find a new doctor. Not only that, but the doctor would have to be close to campus and able to see me between classes. To be honest, I was not great about keeping to the schedule. I was already a skeptic of allergy shots, and the logistical problems I faced in college did not help me stay with them.

When I left college and started living on my own, I decided to give allergy shots another try. After all, I had not really given them a chance in the previous 4 years. That was when I discovered how hard it could be to get my shots, even with good intentions. For one thing, I could not find a doctor who could see me beyond normal business hours, so I struggled to take off time during my workday. Once I found a doctor I liked, he was so busy that I often had trouble finding an appointment time with him that fit my allergy shot schedule -- the doctor's calendar was already filled from one month to the next! Between the frustrations of scheduling the shots and my perception of their inefficacy, it was not long before I dropped the treatment altogether.

My allergies never got any better, but over the years I found ways to tolerate them. Now that I'm older and have more experience with my allergies, I have discovered some of the tricks that make me feel better. I'm not saying that allergy shots never work, just that they did not work for me. My mom still gets shots and says they work, but sometimes I wonder. It has been almost three decades now, and she still needs to take shots. They must have helped her in some way, because she is just as enthusiastic about them as ever, but I wonder if she anticipated taking them for years and years?

Mom thinks I did not give allergy shots a chance because I was so sporadic with them in college and after. The way I see it, I gave them a chance for 12 years (ages 5 through 18). If that's not long enough to know if they work, what is? I think allergy shots are a great solution if they work for you. I'm just not convinced they worked for me.

 

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Review Date: 4/4/2007

Reviewed By: Alan Greene, M.D., F.A.A.P., Department of Pediatrics, Packard Children's Hospital, Stanford University School of Medicine; Chief Medical Officer, A.D.A.M., Inc.


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