COVID-19 symptoms are overlapping again with colds, flu, and seasonal allergies. Here’s how to tell the difference.

coronavirus test
A medical worker performs a PCR test for COVID-19 in Montreuil, France on August 31, 2020.

  • Respiratory infections may become more prevalent again now that Americans are ditching their masks.
  • Some cold or flu cases could be easily confused with a mild COVID-19 infection.
  • Headaches and runny noses seem to be more common among recent COVID-19 cases than past ones.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Measures to curb the coronavirus’ spread, like mask wearing and social distancing, effectively blunted last year’s flu season: Just 155 Americans were hospitalized with the flu from October through January. That’s compared to around 8,600 during roughly the same time period a year prior.

But as Americans ditch their masks and return to normal activities, experts caution that respiratory infections could become more prevalent again.

“I do anticipate that in the months ahead, if people are not wearing masks – and we’ve started to see some of this already – that there will likely be an increase of upper respiratory infections in places that are not wearing masks,” Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a White House press briefing last week.

Common colds are particularly likely to spread, since they’re a year-round illness (though cold cases typically spike in the spring and winter).

“There’s no doubt the colds are coming back,” Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco, told Insider.

In some instances, colds could be easily confused with a mild COVID-19 case. The following chart shows how COVID-19 symptoms either overlap with or diverge from symptoms commonly associated with colds, flu, and seasonal allergies:

The COVID Symptom Study – a project that tracks self-reported COVID-19 symptoms via an app – suggests that a headache and runny nose are now two leading indicators of a COVID-19 infection in the UK, especially among people who are young or partially vaccinated.

So public-health experts are considering whether the Delta variant – which is now dominant in the UK – is causing a somewhat different set of symptoms than the original strain. It’s also possible that average COVID-19 symptoms appear milder lately because more young, healthy people (who are less likely to be vaccinated) are getting infected – or getting official diagnoses – than earlier in the pandemic.

For the most part, though, fully vaccinated people rarely contract COVID-19, let alone develop symptoms. From January to April, just 0.01% of vaccinated Americans – around 10,000 out of 100 million people – got COVID-19 after they were fully immunized, according to a May CDC report. About 27% of those infections were asymptomatic.

That means severe respiratory symptoms among vaccinated people are more likely the result of something other than COVID-19, Gandhi said.

“There are more people hospitalized for other non-COVID respiratory pathogens in the UK right now than there are for COVID-19,” Gandhi added. “That’s what happens when you mass vaccinate.”

Is it COVID-19? Allergies? The common cold?

COVID-19 rarely follows a neat pattern. The CDC estimates that around 30% of cases are asymptomatic, while the remainder can range from mild to severe. The disease can bring a variety of symptoms, the most common of which include fever, cough, loss of smell or taste, headaches, sore throat, and fatigue.

But vaccines could be making symptoms milder overall, so it’s difficult to tell what an average case looks like now.

The COVID Symptom Study found that loss of smell was more common among those who were fully vaccinated than those who hadn’t been immunized. Meanwhile, fever was more common among unvaccinated than vaccinated people.

“Our hope is it’ll get milder,” Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at King’s College London, recently told Insider. “So it will just become like a cold.”

Both colds and COVID-19 tend to develop gradually – whereas the flu and allergies have more abrupt symptoms, as the chart below shows.

COVID-19 symptoms compared to seasonal influenza, allergies, and the common cold

On average, people with COVID-19 start to feel sick five days after they were infected, though symptoms can manifest anywhere from two days to two weeks post-infection.

Similarly, people with a common cold may have a sore throat for eight days, a headache for nine to 10 days, and congestion, a runny nose, or cough for more than two weeks. Cold symptoms usually reach their peak within two to three days of infection.

People with the flu, on the other hand, typically feel sick one to four days after exposure.

Allergies tend to last longer – about two to three weeks per allergen – and won’t resolve until the allergen leaves the air. Peak allergy season lasts through July this year, so some runny noses may be attributable to pollen, not COVID-19. But getting tested is still the only way to know for sure.

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One bite from this tick could ruin red meat for the rest of your life

  • A single bite from a lone star tick could cause hives, shortness of breath, or even death.
  • It’s not something they were born with, it’s something their body was taught to reject, by an uninvited little wilderness hitchhiker.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Imagine that you’re a red-blooded carnivore. You love burgers, steak, pork chops, bacon. But one day, out of nowhere, red meat starts to make you physically sick to the stomach. It sounds like science fiction, but it’s real, and it’s spreading.

It’s spreading to people like Amy.

Amy Pearl: My name is Amy Pearl, and I’m a producer for WNYC.

She has what is called a mammalian meat allergy.

Amy Pearl: I have a tendency to not mention it at restaurants, because I feel like if you say to a server, I’m allergic to meat, they’re gonna be like, I’m spitting in your food.

Any meat that came from a cow, a pig, or a lamb, will make Amy sick. Very, very sick.

Amy Pearl: Like I just had hives on my hands and my feet, and like all over my torso. I was nauseous, and I felt like I was fainting, I felt like the world was ending, I felt like I was gonna pass out and I couldn’t really breathe.

Thousands of Americans are suffering like Amy, but until 2009, this sort of allergy went undiagnosed.

Amy Pearl: I think I made an appointment with my regular physician, but he immediately was like, there’s no such thing as a meat allergy, has to be something else.

That changed with the cancer drug, Cetuximab. In a clinical trial, one in four patients developed severe allergic reactions to the drug. Some even died.

Naturally, Cetuximab was investigated. University of Virginia’s allergy department focused on one specific part of the drug. The key ingredient in Cetuximab is a specific carbohydrate that all non-primate mammals carry in their cell walls and tissues, Galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose, or, if you’re pressed for time, alpha-gal.

Dogs have it, cats have it, and the mice cells involved in the production of Cetuximab have alpha-gal. The team discovered that those who had reactions were from only certain areas of the US, the southeast. The locations of the cases aligned almost perfectly with the range of a specific type of tick, the lone star tick.

Dr. Scott Commins is an allergist, and was working with the University at the time.

Scott Commins: Over 90 to 93% of our patients that developed allergic reactions to red meat and test positive by blood test will have a history of tick bites.

Amy Pearl: The thing I Googled was “sudden meat allergy.” I found an article that said there was some man in Florida, had gone into anaphylactic shock from eating meat after a tick bite. And I was like, “I had a tick bite!” I mean, I often have a tick bite. I’d just taken a tick off me.

One of the leading researchers, Dr. Thomas Platts-Mills, went so far to use himself in an unofficial experiment, taking a hike through a nest of larval ticks. It earned him a nice case of red meat allergy.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about how this meat allergy works, but here is the leading theory. Ticks don’t have alpha-gal naturally, but they could be carrying it if they fed off a mammal, like a deer or a dog. If a tick then bites you, it trades some of your delicious blood for its saliva, which is a cocktail of nasty things. An enzyme in that saliva tells your body that there’s a variety of dangerous threats, and your immune system bans everything in that saliva from entering the body, including alpha-gal, which is also in every burger, steak, and bacon strip. So the next time you eat one of those, your body treats the carbohydrate like an intruder, and hits the panic button.

This is happening in the bodies of an estimated 5,000 Americans. What’s worse is that the range of the lone star tick is growing.

Scott: Their range is spreading into the Ohio River Valley and now up into Minnesota. We also know places where this alpha-gal red meat allergy exists, but they don’t have lone star ticks at all. And this would be southern Sweden, for example, there’s parts of Europe, Australia, and now even South Africa. So clearly other tick species can do this as well.

University of Virginia’s researchers have also linked the alpha-gal allergies with a higher risk of heart disease.

Scott Commins: This allergy seems as though it will often go away over time, but the problem has been that any additional tick bites seem to cause the allergy to return. And these are often patients who like to be outside.

Amy Pearl: I know that my numbers have gone down, because I’ve been retested a couple of times, but they’re still 10, 20 times what they should be.

Dr. Commins continues to work towards an immediate cure to mammalian meat allergy. In the meantime, the number of cases are rising.

Scott Commins: So what we’ve been trying to do is work on a vaccine related to tick saliva, in hopes that we can prevent the allergic response from continuing, or recurring, with additional tick bites.

If you’ve been bitten by ticks recently, be sure to get tested. If you haven’t, learn how to explore the woods safely.

Scott Commins: you may want to consider pre-treating your skin or clothing with DEET or Permethrin, respectively.

Amy Pearl: People are so freaked out about ticks, it’s not that bad. They’re much easier to see than you think.

Learn how to do a tick check after spending time in the wilderness. And if you value a juicy steak over a walk in nature, then maybe stay out of the woods.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in August 2018.

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9 of the best remedies we use to tame bothersome seasonal allergies

If you buy through our links, we may earn money from affiliate partners. Learn more.

  • Spring allergies affect us in many ways, making our noses run, our throats itch, and our eyes burn and water.
  • Thankfully, there is a wide variety of allergy remedies available, including several over-the-counter medications.
  • Below are the allergy products we here at Insider Reviews use and trust to get us through the season.

allergy allergies sneeze sick

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

Editor’s note: Due to the fluctuation of online inventories, we’re doing all we can to keep up with out-of-stock items or those available in limited supply. We review each product’s availability weekly to assure our guides are properly updated, though sometimes this means one or more of the included items may be sold out, or available via a third party.

It all starts with a sniffle, maybe a sneeze or two. Before you know it, the airflow through your nose has been cut off, the itchy receptors in your ears and throat have been activated, and the flood gates in your eyes have opened. You’re reminded once again of the joy of combatting seasonal allergies.

It happens every year – but you’re not alone. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 7.1 million people have suffered from respiratory allergies in the past 12 months. I know I can speak on behalf of the Insider Reviews team when I say, we suffer right there with you.

This year, we’re doing our best to stay ready and have already prepped our arsenal of remedies – and we’re here to share a few of our favorites that help us keep those bothersome allergies at bay. So, stop scaring people away with your sneezes and let your roommates open the windows again. Spring is here to stay and it’s time for us allergy-ridden folk to enjoy it, too.

Here are the products we use to help relieve spring allergies:

Zyrtec 24-Hour Allergy Relief Tablets


“Pollen is my kryptonite. As soon as I come in contact with it, my nose, eyes, and throat start itching and I know I’m going to be in for a miserable onslaught of sneezes and coughs. But unlike Superman, I have a remedy for my greatest weakness — it’s called Zyrtec. When pollen levels are high during the early spring, Zyrtec is a real lifesaver for me. I like to take it before I leave home so it’s already working when I come into contact with pollen. The best part is, it’s non-drowsy, so I can function normally throughout the day.” — Amir Ismael, Insider Reviews senior reporter

“If all else fails or I know I’m traveling to an allergen-ridden place, I take Zyrtec. Zyrtec usually makes my allergies disappear sooner or later but I can’t take it daily without my nose getting overly dry. However, it did save me from repeating the embarrassing experience of attending an important tech conference with a running nose, scratchy throat, and streaming eyes. Turns out taking allergy medicine before you go to a place with lots of allergens does work.” — Malarie Gokey, Insider Reviews deputy editor

“I’ve been a Zyrtec user for as long as I can remember, and I always make sure, regardless of the season, that I have a stocked bottle of it in my bathroom at all times. It’s the first thing I pack when going away and I’m quick to order another bottle when I still have plenty of it left. It’s that important.” — Rick Stella, Insider Reviews fitness and health editor

Nasacort Allergy 24-Hour Nasal Spray


“If your allergies typically leave you with an itchy, runny nose, or feeling congested, this nasal spray should give you some relief. It’s prescription strength but you can get it over the counter at almost any drugstore. No matter the season, I find this spray really helpful.” — Remi Rosmarin, Insider Reviews reporter

“If my allergies come at me full throttle, I pull out my trusted nasal spray, Nasacort, and use it every night before bed. As a person who is allergic to multiple things including pollen, cats and dogs, seasonal allergies, and some food products, I often have trouble sleeping when my symptoms are at their worst. This spray is handy because it works within 30 minutes of use.”  — Megan Foster, Insider Reviews fellow

Allergy 24-Hour Nasal Spray (1 pack) (small)
Flonase Allergy Relief Nasal Spray


“When I feel an allergy attack coming on, I whip out my Flonase nasal spray. It quickly relieves sneeze attacks and typically prevents a full-blown allergy attack. I do have to use it sparingly or my nose will get too dried out.” — Malarie Gokey, Insider Reviews deputy editor

Philips Air Purifier

Philips 5000i Air Purifier

“Although I don’t have strong indoor allergies, I like to use an air purifier at home. The Philips 5000i features a total of six filters — two pre-filters, two HEPA filters, and two active carbon filters — that help reduce odors, gases, and allergens. I control it by using the AirMatters smartphone app or by asking Alexa. As the brand’s largest Connected air purifier, the 5000i is suitable for rooms like the living room or kitchen area of your home. If you plan on using it a smaller space, you can opt for the 1000i.” — Francesca Rea, Insider Reviews content producer

Puffs Plus Lotion Facial Tissues

Puffs tissues

“I used to buy those awful, cheap tissues that feel a bit like sandpaper because I feel like it’s wrong for nice tissues to cost so much. My poor allergy-afflicted nose finally forced me to pay a premium for Puffs tissues. Now they’re my go-to tissue for allergy season. When I get a particularly bad allergy attack, I buy the ones with lotion and they make a world of difference to my poor red nose.” — Malarie Gokey, Insider Reviews deputy editor

“The kind of tissues you use may not seem very important but when you’re using them over and over again in an effort to get just a little bit of relief from a constantly running nose, you’ll soon see just how crucial they are. These lotion-infused Puffs are a nose-saver, providing just enough softness to not completely turn your nose bright red from irritation after you use up an entire box in a day.” — Rick Stella, Insider reviews fitness and health editor

NeilMed Pharmaceuticals Original Sinus Rinse Kit

NeilMed Pharmaceuticals Original Sinus Rinse Kit Packets

“If you’re in need of some serious drainage, this Sinus Rinse bottle from NeilMed can help unclog your sinuses and get you back to breathing regularly. The jetstream of salt-laden water up your nostril feels like swallowing water at the pool but you’ll quickly understand the value of this sinus rinse when the pressure building in your head gets released into the basin of your sink.” — Danny Bakst, Insider Reviews story production manager

Clorox Wipes

Clorox wipes

“Technically this isn’t related to spring allergies but if you’re someone who is susceptible to allergic reactions all year round, keeping your room clean and dust-free can really help. Every so often I’ll use these to wipe down all surfaces in my bedroom. It helps clean up dust and anything else that might be giving you allergy-like symptoms.” — Remi Rosmarin, Insider Reviews reporter

Basic Care Saline Nasal Spray

Basic Care Saline Nasal Spray

“To mitigate dryness and to ensure my nasal passages are clean, I use a saline nasal spray regularly. Saline somehow magically prevents most allergy attacks I get and it helps me avoid getting a bloody nose from all the drying allergy medication I have to use.” — Malarie Gokey, Insider Reviews deputy editor

Claritin 24-Hour Non-Drowsy Allergy Tablets


“When my body gets used to Zyrtec (it takes a week or so), I switch to Claritin. Similar to Zyrtec, it clears up my allergies within a few hours and works continuously as long as I keep up with taking the medicine.” — Megan Foster, Insider Reviews fellow

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Why pollen makes you sneeze

Following is the transcript of the video.

Narrator: When trees, weeds, and grasses mate, they make a mess. Thousands of pollen grains – their reproductive material – fly into the air. And anyone with allergies knows not to get too close, or else. But what is it about that fluffy stuff that sets off the summer sneezes, anyway?

Each year, 26 million Americans experience an allergic reaction sometimes nicknamed hay fever. The culprit? Pollen. And to help them get to where they need to go, the pollen grains are extremely light and sticky. The wind can carry them for thousands of kilometers across state lines and over mountains.

You can even find pollen over 600 kilometers out to sea, with no trees in sight. In other words, this sticky stuff gets everywhere. And sometimes it sticks to places it shouldn’t. Like your clothes, car, and especially your eyes, nose, and lungs. That’s when the trouble starts.

But here’s the odd thing about pollen. On its own, it’s harmless. It’s not a virus or parasite that can give you a disease or damage your organs. It only becomes a problem when your body sees it as one.

Dr. Todd Mahr: “Our body reacts to that antigen-basically the protein in the pollen, and for some reason our body recognizes it as foreign.”

Your immune system has a merciless procedure for dealing with intruders. The first line of defense are Y-shaped proteins called antibodies. They’re like a built-in security system that guards your nose, eyes, and mouth, along with other tissues. When they bump into a grain of pollen, they sound the alarm.

Now, their main goal is to get that pollen out of your system. Which they do by sending a rush of white blood cells to the scene which then produce a chemical called histamine. Histamine has a few ways to get the job done: First, it irritates your nose, forcing you to sneeze.

Which blasts some of the pollen away! Second, it expands your blood vessels, opening tiny gaps between the cells that make up the wall. Opening the path for a squadron of immune cells to squeeze out and attack the pollen grains.

Finally, it tells your nose to make more mucus! Which traps the invader and flushes it out of your nasal passages. Mission accomplished. Histamine also flushes out your eyes in a similar way. It irritates your eyes, causing them to swell and tear up. And if pollen reaches your lungs, histamine irritates the lining, causing you to cough it out.

The end result? You’re a snotty, miserable mess. And since different plants reproduce at different times in the spring and summer, the assault can last for months. But, hey, at least your system is pollen-free. Now, pollen isn’t the only irritant that can cause this type of reaction.

Dr. Todd Mahr: “People react to foods, they react to pollens, they react to chemicals, they react to antibiotics, they react to bee stings. All of those are the same type of immune reaction.”

However, pollen is one of the most common allergies, but scientists aren’t entirely sure why. What they do know is that some people have more sensitive immune systems than others. And that’s based on a bunch of factors, like genetics, when you were first exposed to pollen, and how much of it you were exposed to.

Dr. Todd Mahr: “All of that influences what your body’s going to do and what kind of reaction it’s going to have.”

Regardless of how you ended up with allergies, one thing’s clear: THEY SUCK.

Dr. Todd Mahr: “You’re going to be really miserable. And some people are very, very uncomfortable, and it leads to lost work, to lost school.”

Seasonal allergies cost the US $18 billion a year in lost work hours and medical bills. And there’s bad news: Climate change is making them even worse. A recent series of studies showed that over the past 20 years as global temperatures have climbed, pollen counts have risen with them.

Plus, the earlier and longer periods of warm weather have stretched prime pollen season longer than ever.

Dr. Todd Mahr: “If it’s warmer, which is what climate change is doing, you’re going to have more of those pollinating species thriving.”

The good news is, there are ways to keep the summer sneezes at bay. Like antihistamines. These meds grab on to those irritating histamine molecules, preventing them from working. Hence the name ANTI-histamine.

So as the skies cloud with yellow horror dust, and pollen counts skyrocket, grab a tissue, pop an antihistamine, and hope that winter returns soon.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in August 2019.

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How to know if you’re allergic to the COVID-19 vaccines by Moderna, Pfizer, or J&J

children covid-19 vaccine
  • Most people with severe allergies will not react to a COVID-19 vaccination.
  • None of the shots from Moderna, Pfizer, and J&J contain preservatives. They have no eggs or latex in them.
  • But they do include some other fatty substances, which, in rare cases, people can react to.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

More than 44 million people across the US have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 – that’s about 13% of the country.

Just a very small fraction of those people, about 0.00045%, have had an allergic reaction. Their symptoms ranged from localized hives to wheezing or even life-threatening anaphylaxis.

“Fortunately, I’m not aware of anybody actually dying from getting the vaccine,” Dr. Sanjeev Jain, a board-certified allergist, immunologist, and CEO of Columbia Allergy, told Insider.

Culprits at work in the three authorized vaccines, allergy-wise, seem to stem from a couple of ingredients: polyethylene glycol (PEG), and polysorbate. These are common additives, which help many products better maintain their moisture and stick together in a uniform way.

In the drug industry, these substances can be used to deliver fragile vaccines and medications in convenient formulations. They’re also used in many other ways to make things run smoother, and can be found in everything from processed foods to colonoscopy prep solutions and face creams.

PEG and polysorbate are key ingredients in the COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the US (both Pfizer and Moderna’s shots include PEG, while Johnson & Johnson’s shot has polysorbate in it).

But Dr. Jain says, even if you do have an allergy to one of those vaccine ingredients, there are still ways to get vaccinated safely. In fact, if you’ve ever used a laxative, you may already have a pretty good indication of your risk.

What are the reactive ingredients in the COVID-19 vaccines by Pfizer, Moderna, and J&J?

While some people may want to pore over the ingredients listed in each vaccine, it’s important for people with severe allergies to also have a basic understanding of what’s not in any of these vaccines.

There are no preservatives, no eggs, and no latex. The ingredients to focus on are PEG and polysorbate.

Pfizer vial
Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines have PEG inside, while J&J’s has polysorbate.

Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines are extremely similar and both contain PEG.

The shots are messenger RNA-based (mRNA), and include a combination of fats, salts, sugar and acids, to carry the vaccine’s critical genetic instruction manuals into the body, to teach it to fight off the coronavirus. Polyethylene glycol (PEG) is one of the fatty substances (or, lipids) included in both vaccines to help stabilize and package the key ingredients.

J&J’s shot is different.

It works by injecting viral DNA into a person’s arm, not mRNA. Instead of PEG, it has polysorbate in it.

But that doesn’t mean J&J’s vaccine is necessarily a better option for people with severe PEG allergies. The CDC stresses there is “cross-reactive hypersensitivity” between PEG and polysorbate, meaning that someone who’s allergic to one substance could also react to the other.

“Polysorbate is a very similar chemical to polyethylene glycol,” Jain said. “So, there is a good chance that if somebody is allergic to polyethylene glycol, they’re going to be allergic to polysorbate as well.”

People with PEG allergies may tolerate J&J’s shot a little better

afghanistan covid-19 vaccine
An Afghan health worker receives a dose of COVID-19 vaccine at a medical center in Herat, Afghanistan, March 17, 2021.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not recommending that anyone with allergies avoid COVID-19 vaccination, categorically.

But, the CDC says that you should avoid any particular vaccine that contains an ingredient you are allergic to (such as PEG or polysorbate).

That’s why Pat Wyman, CEO of (a website focused on teaching people how to improve their learning and recall skills) waited until J&J’s shot was available at her local pharmacy in order to get vaccinated.

Wyman is allergic to PEG, and even a little bit of it included in a face cream can give her a headache.

“I’ve had so many allergic reactions to medications,” she told Insider, adding that she always carries around two EpiPens in her purse, just in case of an attack.

Her doctor recommended that she find a place offering J&J’s single-dose vaccine, and Wyman did, at her local pharmacy, on March 10.

“We still have to exercise caution, but it makes me happier that I did it,” she said of being vaccinated.

After vaccination, Wyman did have some severe vaccine side effects, including a high fever, chills, and a headache that began “two seconds” after vaccination she said, and lasted for five days. She thinks that’s probably related to the vaccine’s polysorbate component.

Still, as an immunocompromised person, she knows the risk of catching COVID-19 far overshadows that “temporary discomfort” of getting vaccinated.

“I would do it again in a heartbeat, because it is so important for me to feel safer in general,” she said. “More than that, I want to be able to spend quality time with my family and be able to hug my children, and my grandchildren, and travel!”

Allergists are using laxatives to find out if patients have sensitivity to the COVID-19 vaccines

china covid-19 vaccine
A man receives the COVID-19 vaccine at a gymnasium on March 18, 2021 in Beijing, China.

There are ways to find out if you might have an allergic reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine beforehand.

One good indication that you may be at risk, Jain said, is if you’ve already reacted to a previous vaccination (like the flu vaccine). If that’s the case, consult an allergist before you get vaccinated.

If you are severely allergic to a particular vaccine’s ingredients, your doctor may still be able to recommend a treatment that will make it safe to take the vaccine, though it is time-intensive.

“What a lot of allergists are doing now is systematically testing people for possible polyethylene glycol allergy,” Jain said.

One way to do that in relative safety is for an allergist to administer their patient a bit of Miralax, a laxative that includes PEG. Then, the patient might start to feel nauseous or get a headache – red flags that they probably are sensitive to PEG.

After that screening, those people may choose to undergo desensitization. Jain’s practice has desensitized several people to PEG after they had a reaction to their first dose of Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines.

The desensitization process involves two six-hour sessions, where patients are administered PEG in tiny, incremental doses, using an IV. Dr. Jain starts with a dose of .1 mg of PEG and increases the dosage every 20 minutes.

Patients must get their second dose of mRNA vaccine within 24 hours of their second IV session, as PEG stays in the body for a full day, and patients won’t have a reaction during that time.

What to do before your vaccine appointment if you’re nervous about having a reaction

FILE - In this July 8, 2016, file photo, a pharmacist holds a package of EpiPens epinephrine auto-injector, a Mylan product, in Sacramento, Calif. On Tuesday, March 24, 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned the public about malfunctions involving some EpiPens, the emergency injectors for severe allergic reactions. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
A package of EpiPens.

Before going in for vaccination, people who are concerned about their potential for allergic reaction to COVID-19 vaccines may choose to take an antihistamine, like Zyrtec or Benadryl. Taking an antihistamine if you have mild symptoms after the shot is also fine, Jain said (though, if you’re having any trouble breathing, seek clinical care).

Vaccination sites are also required to have epinephrine for allergic reactions on hand, but talk to your vaccinator to confirm that’s the case, and let them know more about your specific allergy history. Then, make sure to stick around for a full 30 minute observation period after vaccination.

Take comfort when you leave the vaccine site then, knowing that almost all allergic reactions occur in the 15 minutes after vaccine administration.

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Only 10 people who’ve gotten Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine have had severe allergic reactions – and more than 4 million doses have been given out

moderna vaccine
Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine is one of two that have been authorized for emergency use to fight the pandemic across the US. The other vaccine available is from Pfizer.

  • Very few people have had confirmed, allergic reactions after being vaccinated.
  • New CDC data released Friday shows that just 10 people who’ve gotten Moderna’s vaccine in the US have had severe (anaphylactic) allergic reactions, among more than 4 million shots delivered. 
  • The CDC recommends that people who do have an allergic reaction to a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine should not get their second shot.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The odds of having a severe allergic reaction after receiving Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine are looking incredibly slim.

On Friday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its first comprehensive trove of data detailing how many people have had confirmed allergic reactions after getting Moderna’s new shot.

Among more than 4 million doses of the vaccine that were administered nationwide from December 21 to January 10, just 10 people reported confirmed cases of anaphylaxis after vaccination, which is a severe allergic reaction requiring administration of epinephrine.

An additional 43 vaccine-takers had less severe nonanaphylactic allergic reactions, with symptoms including itching (especially in the mouth and throat), rashes, and “sensations of throat closure.”

There have been no reports of death so far, and patients have generally recovered well after these allergic reactions, though five of the 10 severe cases had to be admitted to intensive care first. (Pfizer’s new COVID-19 vaccine, too, has been very rarely associated with allergic reactions.)

10 women have had severe, allergic reactions to the Moderna vaccine

moderna vaccine distribution
The first day of Moderna COVID-19 vaccinations in Broadbent Arena at the Kentucky State Fair and Exposition Center on January 4, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky.

All of the confirmed cases of anaphylaxis after administration of Moderna’s shot so far were in women, which isn’t a huge surprise when you consider that most of the non-elderly people who’ve been vaccinated so far are healthcare workers, an industry which is 76% female.

In addition, according to CDC data, more than 2.4 million woman have gotten Moderna’s shot, compared with 1.4 million men (an additional 125,000-plus people who got Moderna shots didn’t record a sex.)

Most of the anaphylactic reactions happened within just minutes of vaccination. Only one of the ten cases took longer than 30 minutes to present, post-vaccination: 

CDC MMWR Moderna allergies

For these reasons, the CDC is recommending that all vaccine sites have doses of epinephrine on hand, and that people who get vaccinated should wait 30 minutes at the vaccine site before heading off, just in case something happens.

“It’s important that anybody who has had anaphylaxis talk to their vaccinator about that, and make sure that if they choose to be vaccinated, they wait the 30 minutes,” Dr. Thomas Clark, who’s been tracking allergic reactions after vaccination at the CDC, told reporters earlier this month.

Nine of the 10 patients who had severe, allergic reactions after Moderna’s shot had a history of allergies, and the most common allergies among them were to drugs (six patients). Just one patient with a severe reaction after vaccination had a food allergy.

“You know, many, many people with histories of allergies were vaccinated uneventfully,” Dr. Clark added.

People who do have an allergic reaction after their first shot of Moderna or Pfizer’s vaccine should not get their second dose, the CDC says. 

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Most people with allergies should get Pfizer’s coronavirus shot, according to the FDA

covid vaccine trial
Lisa Taylor receives a COVID-19 vaccination during a clinical trial.

  • The newly authorized Pfizer coronavirus vaccine appears to be safe for people with food or environmental allergies, the FDA said on Saturday.
  • Two people in the UK reported severe allergic reactions after getting the shot.
  • After careful consideration, the FDA decided not to include warnings against the vaccine for people with a history of severe allergies, since that’s a large segment of the population and such complications didn’t occur in clinical trials. 
  • Still, there’s more to learn, and all vaccine distribution sites will be equipped to treat any allergic reactions that may occur, which the FDA will continue to closely monitor. 

People with common allergies to foods or to things in the environment like pollen or dust probably don’t have to worry about having a serious reaction to the just-authorized Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, the US Food and Drug Administration said during a press conference on Saturday. 

Even people who’ve had a severe allergic reaction to food or to something in the environment in the past should be OK to get the shot, Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said during the briefing. FDA said that people who are allergic to the shot itself or to one of its ingredients shouldn’t get it.

“We’re telling people that unless they’ve had a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine or one of its components, they can receive it,” Marks said. 

FDA held the briefing to provide more information on Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, after clearing the shot late Friday for emergency use in people 16 and older. In authorizing the vaccine, the FDA said it’s generally safe and highly effective at preventing symptomatic cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

The clarification for people with allergies came after two people in the UK with known, severe allergies had non life-threatening anaphylactic reactions soon after being injected with the vaccine. UK health officials said that people with a history of severe, or anaphylactic, reactions to vaccines, medicines, or food should not get the shot.

“I just want to reassure the public that, although there were these few reactions in Great Britain, these we’re not seeing in the larger clinical trial data sets,” Marks said.

The trial included people with common issues like asthma and food allergies, but excluded people with severe allergies to vaccines.

Allergies are common, but serious reactions to this vaccine are not  

About 30% of the global population has seasonal allergies, 10% have drug allergies, and 8% of children worldwide have food allergies, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. In the US, 1 in 10 adults has food allergies, Food Allergy Research and Education reports. 

Marks said that 1.6% of the population has had a severe allergic reaction to a food or something in the environment. 

“We would really not like to have that many people not be able to receive the vaccine,” he said.  

That’s why, after careful consideration, the agency decided not to include a warning about allergic reactions, outside of those to the vaccine itself and its components, in its fact sheets. 

Still, all vaccination sites will have EpiPens, Benadryl, and hydrocortisone on hand to treat any potential reactions that pop up, which the agency will track. 

“We have very good safety surveillance systems in place in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and we may have to modify things as we move forward,” Marks said. “But for right now, we’re comfortable with this [advice], and the extra piece of this is that centers will have the ability to treat allergic reactions.”

Most of the components in the Pfizer shots are benign 

Marks said people with a history of allergic reactions should still talk to their doctor, who can help them figure out if they may be allergic to one of the components in the new vaccine, including lipids, potassium, chlorine, salt, and sugar. A full list of the components is available here

“None of those ingredients appear to be highly allergenic,” Dr. Sanjeev Jain, a board-certified allergist, immunologist, and CEO of Columbia Allergy told Business Insider’s Hilary Brueck, stressing that most of the chemicals in the new shot are quite benign. 

He said there could be a few explanations, then, for why the two people in Britain experienced severe reactions. In rare cases, people can react to polyethylene glycol, a component of one of the ingredients.  

It’s also possible the people had “non-specific” mast cell reactions, or that something about the vaccine particles triggered the body’s response to allergens. 

Finally, the two people with reactions could have recently had an allergy treatment or come in contact with another allergen, which, in combination with the effect of a vaccine on the immune system, “sent it into overdrive,” Brueck reported. 

“The fact that their immune system got stimulated by the vaccine, that could have triggered a reaction,” Jain said.

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