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Allergy Shots for Eczema: Can They Help?

Medically reviewed by Shruti Wilson, M.D.
Posted on September 19, 2023

Some people receive allergy shots to improve allergy symptoms in their nose, eyes, and lungs. Because eczema is connected to allergies and can be triggered by exposure to allergens — substances that cause allergic reactions — you may wonder if allergy shots can also treat eczema symptoms.

If so, you’re not alone. “Has anyone ever tried allergy shots for eczema? If so, did it help?” asked a MyEczemaTeam member.

From reading this article, you’ll learn more about allergy shots, how they may help people with eczema, and the potential risks involved.

What Are Allergy Shots?

Allergy shots are injections you get from your doctor to help treat allergy symptoms. They’re usually administered by a doctor who specializes in allergies, such as a type of specialist called an allergist/immunologist.

Allergy shots contain small amounts of a specific allergen that the recipient is allergic to, such as pollens, animal hair, or insect venom. The allergen extract is injected subcutaneously (under the skin) using a small needle.

Being injected with a small dose of allergen can stimulate your immune system. This is why allergy shots are also known as allergy immunotherapy. Most people will get injections weekly or monthly for three to five years.

Who Benefits From Allergy Shots?

Adults and children over 5 are eligible to receive allergy shots if they have asthma or allergy symptoms caused by some common environmental allergens, such as:

  • Tree, ragweed, or grass pollen
  • Mold
  • Pet dander
  • Dust mites
  • Cockroaches
  • Bee or wasp stings

Your doctor may use skin tests or blood tests to determine your allergies. The allergy shots you receive will be personalized to you and only contain what you’re allergic to.

Although food allergens may also play a role in triggering eczema symptoms, allergy shots aren’t a treatment option for people with food allergies. If you have a food allergy, it’s best to strictly avoid any exposure to that food.

How Do Allergy Shots Work?

At first, it seems that exposing a person to their allergens to prevent allergy symptoms may not make sense. However, allergy shots work similarly to vaccines for illnesses such as influenza. When you get a flu shot, you’re injected with small pieces of the flu virus. This helps your body recognize the virus and learn to combat it, thereby helping to prevent you from becoming infected by the real virus.

Undergoing allergy shots gradually helps your body develop tolerance through exposure to small amounts of your allergens. When your immune system detects a small dose of the allergen, it makes a protein called an antibody. Antibodies can recognize the allergen and block it from causing your symptoms.

Over time, as you gradually receive increasing doses of the allergen, you can build up immunity to it. There are two phases to allergy shots — the build-up phase and the maintenance phase.

During the build-up phase, your allergen dose will gradually increase. Most people get one to three shots weekly for three to six months.

Once you reach the effective dose, you can begin the maintenance phase. During this phase, you’ll get one to two shots per month for several years.

Allergy symptom relief can start after a few months of treatment and — for some people — can last for years.

How Can Allergy Shots Help Eczema?

If you have allergies, your immune system may overreact to allergens and cause atopic dermatitis (the most common type of eczema) or contact dermatitis (a type of eczema in which contact with an allergen causes an itchy skin rash). Researchers think that allergy shots may be able to help eczema by stopping your immune system from overreacting to your specific environmental allergens.

Allergy shots may help prevent children with allergies from developing other allergic conditions or developing worse allergic rhinitis (hay fever) or asthma. Talk to your allergist, dermatologist, pediatrician, or internist to see if allergy shots may be a helpful eczema treatment for you or your child.

Are Allergy Shots Effective for Eczema?

Whether or not allergy shots are effective in treating eczema is unclear, as different studies have shown conflicting results. Additionally, the available studies are of low quality, so drawing clear conclusions from them is difficult.

A 2023 review looked at 23 randomized controlled studies of people allergic to house dust mites to see if allergen immunotherapy could improve their atopic dermatitis symptoms. They found that allergy shots may improve the severity of atopic dermatitis and improve quality of life. Additionally, allergy shots may decrease itching by about 50 percent. However, it’s unknown whether the benefits of allergy shots are long-lasting or if they can help prevent future eczema flares.

A 2016 Cochrane review looked at 12 randomized controlled trials of people with allergies to dust mites, grass pollen, or other inhaled allergens. Researchers found no evidence that allergy shots were an effective treatment option for people with eczema.

International treatment guidelines for eczema written by health experts in the field don’t routinely recommend using allergy shots as a standard eczema treatment because of the conflicting low-quality evidence. More research is needed to learn how much allergy shots can help people with eczema.

Talk to your doctor if you’re interested in adding allergy shots to your or your child’s eczema treatment plan. Before you or your child starts on a regimen of allergy shots, you should also know about the potential side effects and risks.

What Are the Risks of Allergy Shots?

Allergy shots may not be a good option for everyone. Your doctor may not recommend them if you have severe asthma or heart disease, or if you’re taking certain blood pressure medications. If you’re pregnant, you shouldn’t start new allergy shots, but you may be able to continue your current course.

Additionally, allergy shots take a significant time commitment. You will be required to go to your doctor’s office at least once per week for the first few months of treatment.

Side Effects of Allergy Shots

Like any medical procedure, allergy shots come with possible side effects. The most common is a reaction at the injection site (the area of your skin where the allergen is injected), which may cause discoloration, swelling, and irritation. It may start right after the injection or several hours after.

MyEczemaTeam members have discussed injection site reactions after allergy shots. One member shared, “Yesterday’s shot reactions have been painful. Red, hot, and sometimes itchy. Kept me up last night, and today, still, I have been dealing with it.”

Less commonly, you may experience systemic reactions — side effects in other parts of your body. Systemic side effects can include:

  • Sneezing
  • Nasal congestion (stuffy nose)
  • Hives

These types of reactions are potentially more serious and may require you to stop treatment. This happened to one MyEczemaTeam who shared, “I can’t have allergy shots anymore because my face breaks out so bad.”

There’s also a small risk of developing anaphylaxis, a severe and life-threatening allergic reaction. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • Swelling in your throat
  • Chest tightness
  • Wheezing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Low blood pressure

Anaphylactic reactions usually happen in the first 30 minutes of receiving an allergy shot. For this reason, allergy shots are usually administered at your doctor’s office. Doctors routinely observe people in their office for at least 30 minutes after administering an allergy shot.

Talk With Others Who Understand

On MyEczemaTeam, the social network for people with eczema and their loved ones, more than 49,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with eczema.

Have you had allergy shots to treat your eczema? Did they work for you? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

    Posted on September 19, 2023
    All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.

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    Shruti Wilson, M.D. is an allergist and immunologist in Burlington, Massachusetts. Learn more about her here
    Amanda Jacot, PharmD earned a Bachelor of Science in biology from the University of Texas at Austin in 2009 and a Doctor of Pharmacy from the University of Texas College of Pharmacy in 2014. Learn more about her here

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