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Can allergy shots cause erectile dysfunction?

There are some side effects of allergy shots you need to consider.

Written by
Lucinda Starr
Medically reviewed by
Last updated
April 23, 2024
min read
Can allergy shots cause erectile dysfunction?
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Allergy season brings with it hay fever and symptoms like the dreaded runny nose. If you're getting tired of your blowing your stuffy nose and dealing with watery eyes (along with a myriad of other things), you may have started Googling how to get rid of your allergy symptoms.

Chances are you probably stumbled across allergy shots. Or maybe you've already made a commitment to use allergen immunotherapy to get rid of your allergy symptoms once and for all.

If you have uncovered the culprit behind your allergy symptoms and are taking antihistamines or planning to get your allergy shots, there are some side effects you need to consider. In fact, some studies have shown that allergy shots can cause erectile dysfunction in some cases.

We're here to give you a rundown on all things allergy shots, their side effects, how effective they are and why they could be causing erectile dysfunction (plus how to treat it).

What are allergy shots?

Let's start with the basics.

Allergy shots (a.k.a allergen immunotherapy) are regular injections that are administered over a period of time — typically 3-5 years [1]. The aim of allergy shots is to reduce or stop allergy symptoms and attacks by changing the way the immune system reacts to allergens.

Essentially, the end result of treatment is immunity to the allergens so that you can tolerate them with fewer or no symptoms at all [2]. Allergy shots contain a tiny amount of substances (called an allergen) that set off your allergic reactions. The number of allergens contained in allergy shots is enough to stimulate your immune system but not enough to cause a serious allergic reaction.

The gradual process of allergen immunotherapy helps your body get used to the allergens essentially causing desensitisation. Your doctor gradually increases the dose of allergens contained in the allergy shots.

Allergen immunotherapy can also be administered sublingually (under the tongue) in tablet form, sprays or drops [3]. In this method, you keep the allergen under your tongue for a few minutes and then swallow it.

If you're using allergen immunotherapy via tablet form you can do it at home and there's also a decreased chance of side effects. On the flip side, this method is more expensive and less effective than allergy shots.

Prior to starting allergen immunotherapy, your doctor will perform an allergy test or blood test to find out if your symptoms are caused by an allergy and which culprit allergens are causing your allergy symptoms. During an allergy test, the specific allergen is scratched into your skin and if swelling and redness appear within 15 minutes it's indicative of an allergy.

Who can take allergy shots?

There is a range of scenarios where allergy shots can make a dramatic difference in people's lives. Typically, allergy shots are generally recommended for people who have:

  • Life-threatening allergies to stinging insects including bees, wasps and jack jumper ants.
  • Allergic rhinitis (hay fever) that are caused by pollen or dust mites when the symptoms are severe and medications aren't working.
  • Dust mites allergy.
  • People with asthma who know their asthma symptoms are caused by a specific allergen.
  • Eczema [3].

How effective are allergy shots?

Allergy shots have been used for over 100 years with research showing they can reduce the chances of severe reactions to allergies from stinging infections from 6 in 10 to less than 1 in 10 [3].

The research shows that people with allergic rhinitis (inflammation of the inside of the nose) have significant improvement in their symptoms (usually sneezing, itching, blocked or runny nose) and their quality of life is also dramatically improved [4].

Allergen immunotherapy is also extremely effective to reduce asthma symptoms and prevent children with allergic rhinitis from developing asthma symptoms in the future [3]. Data suggests that venom immunotherapy (allergy shots used to treat allergies to insects) can reduce the risks of serious reactions from 60% to 10% [2].

What are the side effects of allergy shots?

Most patients don't experience any side effects from allergy shots but considering they expose you to substances that cause allergies, reactions are possible.

The most common side effect of allergy shots is swelling at the injection site, which can cause redness, swelling or itching. Most patients use ice and antihistamines to treat swelling at the injection site.

Some side effects of allergy shots may cause sneezing, teary eyes, nasal congestion, runny nose or hives — although these are less common.

While they're very rare, allergy shots can cause anaphylaxis, leading to trouble breathing and low blood pressure. As a precaution, you have to stay in the doctor's office for at least 30 minutes after your treatment.

You're also advised to avoid exercise for a few hours and taking antihistamines before your allergy shot can reduce side effects.

Can allergy medications cause erectile dysfunction?

Now, the bit you've been waiting for: is there any link between allergy shots and ED? Erectile dysfunction can be caused by certain kinds of prescription medications including beta blockers and allergy medications including antihistamines.

Antihistamines block the action of histamine (a compound released by cells in response to allergies and inflammatory reactions). This chemical is involved in allergic reactions but also in erections.

Histamine also helps to relax muscles, which allows blood vessels in the penis to swell with blood (which causes an erection) [5]. Allergy medications, therefore, can lead to erectile dysfunction, particularly when taking them for prolonged periods of time.

What are the other common causes of erectile dysfunction?

Aside from allergy medications, there are other reasons why you can be experiencing erectile dysfunction — after all, sexual activity arousal involves a lot going on with the brain, emotions, hormones, nerves and more.

Let's take a look at the physical and psychological reasons that can cause erectile dysfunction.

Physical causes

There are various physical reasons and medical conditions that can affect erectile dysfunction including:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Atherosclerosis: clogged blood vessels
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Side effects of certain medications and treatments
  • Smoking cigarettes and vaping
  • Alcohol and substance use
  • Low testosterone levels [6].

Psychological reasons

Your mind can be a big part of why you may experience ED and it can really impact your sex life. Stress, depression and anxiety are all common reasons that affect erectile dysfunction in men. Anxiety surrounding your sexual activity and performance can cause persistent fears, eventually leading to erectile dysfunction.

Anti-depressant medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are estimated to cause 25% of all erectile dysfunction cases [7].

You may even have a combination of both physical and psychological reasons for experiencing erectile dysfunction.

For example, you may have a medical condition that impacts your sexual activity or be taking a certain medication that impacts your sex life which gives you anxiety about getting it up. The worry about maintaining an erection can lead to the development of erectile dysfunction.

How can you treat erectile dysfunction?

In most cases, erectile dysfunction is treatable with both physical and psychological treatment — yep, there's help out there.

Medical treatment for erectile dysfunction works to target the enzyme responsible for the contraction of blood vessels in the penis. This helps to improve blood flow and maintain firm erections during sexual activity, which is great if it's allergy season and you're taking more antihistamines than normal or getting your allergy shots.

Pilot's clinical erectile dysfunction treatment offers both on-demand and daily treatment options for whatever your needs are. With treatment, 78% of men will achieve lasting erections so they can resume their normal sexual activity.

Plus, we know it can be pretty daunting to talk about erectile dysfunction or talk to your local GP about your sex life. So, Pilot offers judgement-free treatment via online consultations with an Aussie practitioner. We also take some of the anxiety about seeking treatment, with discreet shipping so no prying eyes can see what you're up to.

Diet and exercise can also play a big role in treating erectile dysfunction. Increased physical activity can be helpful and certain foods can help you on your journey. Psychological treatment such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can be used in combination with medicines to get you back on track and improve your sex life.

Ultimately, allergy shots can be really helpful in reducing or eliminating allergy symptoms for many people including those with asthma, allergic rhinitis and an allergy to stinging insects. But, you also don't want allergy shots or allergy medications to impact your sex life.

Luckily, there are plenty of treatment options out there to help improve sexual activity and erectile dysfunction.

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