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Do Allergy Shots Hurt?


Updated June 24, 2014

Do Allergy Shots Hurt?

Allergy shots involve the use of small needles, injection just under the skin, and the use of "pinch anesthesia", all of which minimize pain and discomfort.

Daniel More, MD
Question: Do Allergy Shots Hurt?
Answer: If given appropriately, allergy shots cause minimal discomfort. Many people and children are afraid of shots, but this fear is usually based on the pain caused by routine immunizations, such as a tetanus shot. These injections are given intramuscularly (into the muscle), usually in the upper arm, which is what causes pain and soreness.

Allergy shots, on the other hand, are given subcutaneously (just under the skin) in the upper arm with a very small needle. Many experienced allergy nurses will “pinch” the skin on the arm while giving the allergy shot, which helps ensure the shot does not go into the muscle and provides a numbing sensation where the needle goes through the skin (known as “pinch anesthesia”).

Other techniques commonly used to decrease the discomfort from allergy shots include the use of topical anesthetic creams and cooling sprays to numb the skin prior to giving the allergy shot. While these are commonly used and probably help reduce any mild pain that can occur with an allergy shot, in my experience, they are not usually needed.

Like allergy testing, allergy shots can cause itching and swelling at the site of the injection minutes to hours after the shot. These symptoms are often uncomfortable, but not usually painful. There are a number of ways to reduce or prevent these symptoms, such as taking an antihistamine a few hours before getting an allergy shot. Once the swelling has occurred, ice packs, topical steroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) can be used to treat any swelling or discomfort.

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Fischer TJ, O’Brien KP, Entis GN. Basic Principles of Therapy for Allergic Disease. In: Lawlor GJ, Fischer TJ, Adelman DC, eds. Manual of Allergy and Immunology. 3rd ed. Boston: Little, Brown and Co;1995:51-93.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this site is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your physician for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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