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Scary Reaction to Flu Shot

Q. I was given a flu shot at a routine doctor visit. Afterwards, I didn’t feel well. I went to bed early and slept for over 11 hours.

The following day, I began to have difficulty breathing. I thought of going to the emergency room but waited and saw my doctor on the third day. By that time it was harder and harder for me to breathe.

The doctor found my lungs were clear, my heart was strong, and my blood-oxygen saturation was normal at 98. He said I was having an “abnormal or allergic reaction to the shot.”

Today is day 6. I’m breathing almost normally again but I wish I’d been warned this could happen. On the government website for flu vaccine, “breathing difficulty” is listed as a serious reaction to the vaccine!

A. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) describe common vaccine side effects as runny nose, sore throat, headache or cough in addition to soreness and redness at the injection site.

They note, however,

“Signs of a serious allergic reaction can include difficulty breathing, hoarseness or wheezing, swelling around the eyes or lips, hives, paleness, weakness, a fast heart beat or dizziness.”

There are new flu vaccines that are not grown in eggs (one reason for allergic reactions). Those who know they are allergic to eggs might ask about Flucelvax or Flublok.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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