Fall brings us cooler weather, colorful trees and harvest fairs and festivals. But it also brings us the beginning of flu season. Since the flu season lasts from about October to May – and peaks between December to February – you need to do all you can to protect yourself against the flu, especially if you have asthma.
But many people avoid the flu vaccine because they have some concerns about the safety of the vaccine or need for the vaccine.
Here are some common questions about the flu vaccine.
Is the Flu Vaccine Safe for People With Asthma?
Not only is the flu vaccine safe for people with asthma, it can be lifesaving. Asthma is a chronic disease where the airways are inflamed. Triggers, such as allergens, pollution and infections, can cause this inflammation.
The flu, also called influenza, is a respiratory illness caused by a virus. “Respiratory” means this is an illness that affects your breathing. The flu by itself can make even the healthiest person very sick. It can also cause complications that can result in a hospital stay or even death. Examples of complications are:
- Ear and sinus infections
Because people with asthma already have sensitive airways, this group has a higher chance of having serious flu complications and worse asthma symptoms.1 It is especially important that people with asthma, and those living with them, get the flu vaccine.2
While you’re getting your flu vaccine, talk to your doctor about getting the pneumococcal [NOO-muh-KAH-kuhl] vaccine too, if you haven’t already.3 Pneumococcal disease is a serious bacterial infection that can also be dangerous for people with asthma. This vaccine may help protect you against one of the most common flu complications.
Does the Flu Vaccine Make Asthma Worse?
No. Experts reviewed several trials on the flu vaccine given to both adults and children with asthma. They did not find proof that the flu shot makes asthma worse.4 They found that the flu vaccine protected people with asthma.
Is the Nasal Vaccine a Good Choice for People With Asthma?
For the 2019-2020 flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), does not recommend the nasal spray flu vaccine for children ages 2 through 4 who have asthma or who have had wheezing within the past 12 months. They also say people age 5 and older with asthma should take precautions if they want to get the nasal vaccine.
The nasal spray flu vaccine is also known as the live attenuated influence vaccine (LAIV).5 If you have asthma and want to consider the nasal vaccine, talk to your doctor first.
Can the Flu Shot Vaccine Make Me Sick With the Flu?
No. It’s not possible for the flu shot vaccine to make you sick because the viruses in the shot are inactivated (dead). This means they are not infectious.4
If you get sick after getting the flu vaccine, here are a few possible reasons why:
- You may have caught another virus going around. During flu season, people are spreading other illnesses too. Some of these viruses may have similar symptoms to the flu.
- You might have caught the flu right before you got the vaccine. This means the vaccine would not have had time to take effect. It takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to start to work. That’s why it’s best to get it as soon as possible before flu season begins.
- You might have caught a strain of flu that isn’t in the current vaccine. Experts pick the top three or four flu strains they think will be the most common for each season. These go into the flu vaccine. Other strains might still get passed around. But even if you catch another strain of flu, the flu shot can still help you. Some studies have shown that it can still make the flu less severe.6
Is the Flu Vaccine Safe for People With Egg Allergy?
Most versions of the flu vaccine can contain a tiny amount of egg protein. So can you still get the flu vaccine if you are allergic to eggs?
Yes. Studies show that an egg allergy is no longer a reason to avoid the flu vaccine. These studies looked at people with different types of reactions to egg and found a low chance of reaction to the flu shot.
During the past few years, the following organizations updated their recommendations on the flu vaccine and egg allergy:
- American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
- The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI)
- The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI)
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The take-home message? The flu vaccine is a critical part of asthma management and could save your life or the life of a loved one with asthma.
Medical Review October 2017. Updated September 2019.
1. Flu and People with Asthma | Seasonal Influenza (Flu) | CDC. (2019). Cdc.gov. Retrieved 25 September 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/asthma/index.htm
2. Who Needs a Flu Vaccine and When. (2019). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved 25 September 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/consumer/vaccinations.htm
3. Pneumococcal Vaccination | CDC. (2019). Cdc.gov. Retrieved 25 September 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/pneumo/index.html
4. Misconceptions about Seasonal Flu and Flu Vaccines | Seasonal Influenza (Flu) | CDC. (2019). Cdc.gov. Retrieved 25 September 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/misconceptions.htm (2017).
5. Chen, W., Arnold, J., Fairchok, M., Danaher, P., McDonough, E., & Blair, P. et al. (2015). Epidemiologic, clinical, and virologic characteristics of human rhinovirus infection among otherwise healthy children and adults. Journal Of Clinical Virology, 64, 74-82. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jcv.2015.01.007