Allergies occur when your immune system recognizes a foreign substance as a threat. These foreign substances are called allergens, and they don’t trigger a reaction in some other people.
Pollen from grass and other plants are allergens that are present during certain times of the year. When you come into contact with these allergens, your immune system goes on the defensive, causing symptoms such as sneezing, nasal congestion, and itchy or watery eyes.
Corticosteroids, a type of steroid hormone, are available as nasal sprays, topical creams, pills, and long-lasting injections. They work by suppressing inflammation caused by an overly reactive immune system.
When it comes to treating seasonal allergies, corticosteroid injections are a last resort. They are prescribed when other treatments don’t work and symptoms interfere with everyday activities. They’re not the same as immunotherapy injections, which don’t include steroids.
Read on to find out more about the risks, benefits, and cost of steroid shots for allergies.
Long-lasting steroid shots for allergies can last between three weeks and three months. During this time, the steroid is slowly released into your body.
A long-lasting shot may mean that you only require one shot per allergy season. However, long-lasting shots come with risks. In particular, there’s no way to remove the steroid from your body if you experience side effects.
There are few studies examining the effectiveness of steroid shots over time, as the risk of serious side effects increases with repeated use.
The cost of an allergy steroid shot depends on several factors, including the type of corticosteroid, the concentration, and the quantity. For example, kenalog-40 (triamcinolone acetonide) can range in price from approximately $15 to $100 per injection. That doesn’t include the cost of administration by your doctor.
Your insurance plan may not cover steroid shots for allergies, as they’re not considered a first-line treatment. Contact your insurance provider to find out what your plan covers.
Steroid shots for allergies may relieve allergy symptoms. However, they can also trigger cause short- and long-term side effects.
Short-term side effects
Short-term side effects of corticosteroid shots can range from mild to severe. They can include:
- anxiety and restlessness
- easy bruising and thinning skin
- facial swelling and redness
- high blood sugar
- increased appetite and weight gain
- low potassium
- mood swings and behavior changes
- salt and fluid retention
- stomach upset
- weakness near the injection site
Long-term side effects
Taking steroid shots for a prolonged period of time increases the risk of more serious side effects. Long-term side effects can include:
- avascular necrosis
- osteoporosis and fractures
- Cushing syndrome
- increased risk for heart disease
- herpes keratitis
- hormonal suppression
- peptic ulcers
- psychological symptoms, such as depression or psychosis
- severe hypertension
- tuberculosis and other chronic infections
- venous thromboembolism
Side effects for people with chronic conditions
Since corticosteroid shots suppress inflammation and your immune response, they can hide common signs of illness and infection, putting you at risk.
People with certain chronic conditions may be at an increased risk for serious side effects as the result of a steroid shot for allergies. Be sure to let your doctor or allergist know if you have (or have had) any of the following conditions:
- fungal infections
- heart attack
- mental illness
- an untreated infection
- heart disease
- herpes keratitis
- bowel, kidney, or liver disease
- myasthenia gravis
- a thyroid disorder
You should also tell your doctor if you’re taking medication, vitamins, or nutritional supplements. Steroid shots are not considered safe for children and women who are pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or breastfeeding.
Your doctor will help you find the best treatment based on your current health, medical history, and allergy symptoms.
Allergy shots and steroid shots are not the same thing. Allergy shots are a type of immunotherapy and don’t contain steroids.
Allergy shots are administered over a period of several years. Each shot contains a tiny amount of an allergen. This amount is gradually increased over the first three to six months and then maintained with shots at lesser frequency for three to five years.
While allergy shots can eventually prevent and lessen allergy symptoms, they don’t usually work right away. Sometimes, it can take a year or longer before they provide relief from symptoms.
Nasal corticosteroids are another common treatment for seasonal allergies. While these drugs contain steroids, they carry much less risk than steroid shots and pills because they target a specific area of the body. Nasal corticosteroids suppress the allergic response and relieve many allergy symptoms including nasal congestion and runny nose.
Antihistamines, decongestants, and combination drugs are also effective at treating symptoms of hay fever. Antihistamines block a protein called histamine, which is released when your immune system encounters an allergen. Decongestants help to relieve nasal congestion. Some allergy medications include both an antihistamine and a decongestant.
Mast cell stabilizers
Mast cell stabilizers are a type of drugs used to prevent allergy symptoms such as itchy eyes and runny nose. Eye drops and nasal sprays containing mast cell stabilizers prevent the release of histamine where they are applied.
Other treatments for allergies include lifestyle changes and alternative therapies, such as:
- avoiding allergens
- allergy-proofing your home and workspace
- nasal rinses
Long-lasting steroid shots can help relieve symptoms of seasonal allergies. However, they carry a serious risk of side effects, especially if you take them in the long term. In general, they’re considered a last resort for treating severe allergies, particularly when other treatments don’t work.