Flu Vaccine FAQs: Asthma and Food Allergy Edition

Flu season is here! If you haven’t already received your flu shot, know you can hurry to your pharmacy or primary care provider to get yours as soon as possible — even those with asthma and food allergies can safely get the flu shot.

Dr. Sumona Kabir, allergist at Allergy Associates of La Crosse, answers frequently asked questions about the flu vaccination, diving into:

  • the importance of guarding yourself from the flu
  • safety of the vaccine
  • possible side effects
  • and more, all through an allergy and asthma lens

What is the benefit of the flu vaccine?

There are two versions of the influenza vaccine; an injection and a nasal spray. The injection is not a live virus, and the nasal spray is a live vaccine.

“Regardless of which form of the flu vaccine is given, it prevents the person from either contracting the flu when they’re exposed to someone who is infected by the flu virus, or, if they’re infected with the flu virus, they’ll have a much less severe reaction from the flu,” Dr. Kabir explains.

It’s not 100% effective for all strains of the flu, but will prevent you from being severely impacted by the virus. “Data shows it prevents a significant number of people from being hospitalized if they are vaccinated with the flu vaccine,” Dr. Kabir says.

Why is the flu vaccine important for those with asthma?

Like perfumes, smoke, or another viral or bacterial infection, the flu can be a trigger for asthma. Dr. Kabir explains that being infected with the flu “can actually bring on asthma, meaning they will be newly affected by asthma, or it can exacerbate someone’s existing asthma that otherwise would have been completely controlled.” The flu adds inflammation, narrowing the airways in the lungs.

“Those with asthma have a weaker lung, so if they can prevent getting the flu, they may be preventing themselves from having an asthma exacerbation,” Dr. Kabir says, “Also, they may be preventing themselves from using steroids or getting hospitalized from their additional asthma symptoms. It’s a two-step process.”

Is it safe for those with food allergies?

The only food allergy that the flu vaccine has any relation to is egg. Dr. Kabir explains that the vaccine is prepared on an egg based source, therefore the ovalbumin — one of the main egg allergens — can remain in the vaccine. Dr. Kabir explains the safety of the vaccination based on recommendations from the CDC:

  • If someone has grown out of their egg allergy, or can handle egg in a baked or raw form, they have absolutely no restriction in receiving the flu vaccine.
  • If someone has an ongoing egg allergy and their only reaction is just a rash, the CDC recommends that they are also able to get the flu vaccine without any concern for an adverse reaction.
  • For people with a history of any systemic reaction beyond rash, they can get the flu vaccine at their physician’s facility, but will have to be observed for 30-60 minutes, based on their physician’s comfort level.
  • They will not be able to get the flu vaccine if they had an anaphylactic reaction to a flu vaccine itself in the past.

Can I get the flu from the flu vaccine?

Dr. Kabir wants it to be clear: You cannot be infected by influenza by receiving the vaccine. “But you may experience some muscle pain, fatigue, and even low grade fever from receiving the vaccine, as well as injection site pain. If these symptoms are happening, that is a side effect, it doesn’t mean you have the flu.”

She recommends pre-treating yourself with Tylenol, drinking plenty of fluids before and after the vaccine, taking vitamin C, and icing the injection site if needed after the injection. Most importantly, Dr. Kabir enforces, “If you look at the benefit versus the risk of actually getting the flu, the side effects you may experience are manageable.”

If you have questions about the flu shot, contact your provider or reference the CDC website for their recommendations. If you’re interested in also protecting yourself from food allergies or treating allergic asthma, find a provider near you offering custom allergy drop treatment.