A report in the New England Journal of Medicine says that immunotherapy - allergy shots - can help keep allergic symptoms at bay for at least as long as three years.
Immunotherapy shots work for allergies caused by grass, ragweed, trees, dust mites, animal dander, reactions to bee stings, and even in some cases, mild asthma. However, shots do not work for food allergies.
Patients in the study who were given monthly injections of a small amount of the offending grass pollen had fewer allergy symptoms and used less allergy medications. But when the injections were discontinued after three or four years, patients were still protected against allergy symptoms for up to three years afterwards, say researchers at the Imperial College School of Medicine in London.
Researchers concluded that allergy shots may not have to be given for life.
"They may never relapse into symptoms as severe as what they had originally," said Samantha Walker, one of the study's authors. She added that in "carefully selected patients" the treatment was very effective.
The American College of Allergy and Asthma says that insurance will often pay for immunotherapy, and that in the long run, it's cheaper than taking prescription or over-the-counter medicines every day for the rest of your life. Allergy shots cost about $1,800 over three years, while pills like Claritin cost about $2 each and will relieve symptoms, but do not protect long-term.
People who can't tolerate allergy medications well or for whom they don't work are good candidates for shots. Children as young as four- or five-years-old can have the shots, and even pregnant women can get immunotherapy if they began treatment before they became pregnant.