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Allergy Pills VS Allergy Shots: Which is Better?

Allergy Pills VS Allergy Shots: Which is Better?

Did you know allergies are the 6th most common chronic illness in the United States? For some, allergies cast a dark cloud on a sunny spring day. But for others, they cause daily symptoms that interfere with quality of life. If you struggle with itchy eyes and nose, congestion, runny nose, swelling of the face, wheezing, or tightness in your chest this time of year, you have many options.

Two of the most common treatments for seasonal allergies are oral medication (OTC or prescription) and allergy shots from a doctor. Which is the right choice for you? Let's dig into both.

Types of oral allergy medications

Allergy pills and tablets are the most popular source of seasonal allergy relief because they’re accessible and tend to treat the most common symptoms. Over-the-counter brands like Zyrtec®, Clarinex®, Allegra®, and Benedryl® are a class of medication called antihistamines.

Antihistamines block histamine, or a symptom-causing chemical released by your immune system during an allergic reaction. They ease symptoms like runny nose, itchy eyes, hives, and swelling. But be aware that some of these drugs can cause drowsiness. Check labels for non-drowsy medication if needed or use caution when using them.

Another class of allergy medication is corticosteroid. Corticosteroids relieve symptoms by suppressing allergy-related inflammation. Many targeted medications like nasal sprays, eye drops, and some topical creams fall in the class of corticosteroid. They are effective medication but should also be used with caution and only over short periods of time.

How are allergy shots different than medication?

While medications tend to “block” the transmission of symptoms, allergy shots work by introducing the allergen into your system and letting your body tackle it. In doing this, you prevent allergies in the first place rather than masking the symptoms, a process called immunotherapy.

Immunotherapy is provided by a doctor. It’s a carefully timed and gradually increased exposure to allergens, particularly those that are difficult to avoid like pollens, dust mites and molds. The goal is to train the body's immune system not to react to these allergens.

Immunotherapy might be used when other treatments aren't providing relief or when taking medication isn’t well tolerated by your body. It is also helpful in reducing a certain type of allergy, asthma, in some patients.

When should I consider allergy shots?

Immunotherapy should be considered if other types of medication are not providing relief. If you continue to struggle year after year, immunotherapy may be a more effective solution than over-the-counter drugs.

How it works

Immunotherapy may be given as a series of injections, usually one or two times a week. The dose may be increased weekly or every two weeks based on the patient's tolerance. Injections of the maximum tolerated dose may then be given every two to four weeks year round.

Side effects might include irritation at the injection site and allergy symptoms such as sneezing, congestion or hives. Rarely, allergy shots can cause anaphylaxis, a sudden life-threatening reaction that causes swelling in the throat, difficulty breathing, and other signs and symptoms.

NOTE: Allergy shots are a common form of immunotherapy, but it’s not the only type. Other types are prescription-administered oral pills or droplets.

When should a doctor get involved?

If allergies are more than an occasional nuisance in your life, it’s a good idea to start working with a doctor to choose the best medication for your needs. Even over-the-counter allergy medications have side effects, and some can cause problems when combined with others.

These circumstances also warrant having a doctor involved in your allergy treatment plan:

  • You're already taking an allergy medication that isn't working. Bring the medication with you in its original bottle or package when you see your doctor.
  • You're treating allergies in a child. Children need different doses of medication or different medications from adults.
  • You're treating allergies in an older adult. Some allergy medications can cause confusion, urinary tract symptoms or other side effects in older adults.
  • You're pregnant or breast-feeding.
  • You have a chronic health condition, such as diabetes, glaucoma, osteoporosis or high blood pressure.
  • You're taking other medications, including herbal supplements.


Allergy treatment is available at Ogden Clinic across the Wasatch Front. Check out our outstanding allergy team at Mountain West ENT (serving Layton and Bountiful) and our allergists in Ogden at Professional Center North.

Our allergy doctors see patients of all ages including pediatrics. Schedule your first visit here.