Navigating allergies: food and the Covid-19 vaccine


RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — For nearly 32 million Americans, food allergies are a matter of life and death. An allergic reaction happens when the immune system overreacts to certain proteins in food. 

Allergies are also a concern when it comes to getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Richmond allergist Dr. Michael Blumberg, with Allergy Partners of Richmond, said it’s important to be aware of your current allergies before getting the vaccine. He goes on to say that people who are allergic to the popular laxative MiraLAX may also have a reaction to the vaccine. The drug and mRNA vaccines share a chemical compound known as “PEG” that can cause a reaction.

“We have seen people have anaphylaxis when they have [received] the COVID vaccine. Only retrospectively did they remember that they were also allergic to MiraLAX,” said Blumberg.

People who have mastocytosis, a condition where certain immune cells, build up under the skin and/or bones and organs, are also at risk of reacting to the vaccines. They should consult with their primary care physician before taking it. And the CDC recommends that anyone who has a reaction from their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine should not get the second dose.

Most of the reactions to the current COVID-19 vaccines occur within the first 10 minutes. If someone thinks they may have an allergic reaction after getting the vaccine, they should stay for observation after the shot.

“They’re not going to throw you out of the waiting area,” said Dr. Bloomberg. “If you are really nervous, you can wait thirty minutes. If you’re just a little nervous wait 15 minutes and then you can leave.”

The CDC is reporting dozens of reactions to the current vaccines available from Pfizer and Moderna. Reactions range from hives and swelling to complete anaphylaxis.

“In the last 20 years, the incidents of people having food allergies have skyrocketed,” Dr. Blumberg said. He points out that more people are also seeking medical advice and the ability to diagnose the diseases is better today than just 20 years ago. 

But currently, there’s no medical research that points to one specific cause of the influx in allergies, but Dr. Blumberg, a specialist in allergy and immunology who has been practicing in the Richmond- Metro area for more than 40 years, said there are several theories as to why it happens.

The first is the hygiene hypothesis. 

“The cleaner we get, the more likely we are to have allergies because it turns our immune system away from infections and towards allergies,” Dr. Blumberg said.

Another theory doctors suggest is the issue of restricting diets. Meaning, someone may have a mild reaction to a certain food, so they remove it from their diet completely.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that around 8% of children in the U.S. live with some form of a food allergy, with varying ways they become allergic.

Sometimes allergies can be passed down through genetics. So, If both of a child’s biological parents have a certain allergy, the child has a 50% chance of developing that same allergy. If just one parent has it then that number drops to 25%. 

Dr. Blumberg said that kids who have skin problems are more likely to develop food allergies.

The way they get it is they crawl on the floor and they absorb the protein. Like peanut protein is in most home’s dust and most school’s dust,” Dr. Blumberg said. “So if you crawl around and roll on the floor you are absorbing the protein through your skin. That’s how so many infants become allergic to peanuts so early in life when they’ve never actually eaten it before. ”

Many adults develop food allergies because they are allergic to pollen-producing plants. Dr. Blumberg said breathing in pollen containing the same proteins as certain foods will trigger a reaction that appears to come out of nowhere.

What defines an allergic reaction are the symptoms — they are usually immediate and don’t last long. More serious reactions include symptoms such as anaphylaxis. 

Anaphylaxis causes someone’s blood pressure to drop suddenly and your airways to narrow. Making it nearly impossible to breathe.

It can also cause a person to go into shock which can be potentially life-threatening. 

One of the most common food allergies that can cause a severe reaction is a shellfish allergy. Dr. Blumberg said there is an interesting connection that may cause someone to develop this type of allergy. 

“People who are allergic to cockroach and dust mites frequently become allergic to crustaceans… shrimp, crab, and lobster,” Blumberg said. “They share a muscle protein…the cockroach and the shrimp. So that’s how they can develop that allergy.”

For some people, food allergies can develop seemingly out of nowhere. Anyone who suffers from food allergies should see a specialist to help determine who severe their reaction is, and if they should carry epinephrine. Consult with your primary care physician if you think you may be developing allergies.

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