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Some Food Allergies Can Cause Flu Shot Reactions

Food allergies and flu shots

If you or your children have food allergies, including egg and gelatin allergies, here are some things you should know about flu shots.


It’s that time of year, when flu shots are recommended for just about everyone. Parents of children who have food allergies often have questions about the safety of the flu shot since the vaccine contains several known allergens.

At the recent American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting and in a previous report, experts shared their advice on administering flu shots to children and others who have food allergies. Here are a few things you should know.

Gelatin and flu shots
You may be familiar with the controversy concerning flu shots for people who have an egg allergy (more about that below), but what about gelatin? Although it is fairly rare, an allergy gelatin can cause all the same allergic reactions associated with other food allergies: difficulty breathing, sneezing, hives, and anaphylaxis (a life-threatening response).

Flu shots and other vaccines contain a variety of additives, and gelatin is included as a stabilizer. Gelatin contains proteins that are extracted from animals (e.g., cows, fish, pigs), and it is used in candies, some yogurts, cheeses, wine, some processed foods, and capsules for nutritional supplements among other products.

Anyone who has a gelatin allergy should take precautions. According to allergist Stephanie Albin, MD, an ACAAI member, those precautions should include having the flu shot administered by a board-certified allergist who can respond quickly and properly should an allergic reaction occur.

The ACAAI recommends that people who suspect they or their children may have a food allergy should be examined by an allergist.

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It’s important to note that a food allergy is not the same as a food intolerance, although the symptoms can be similar. That said, a food allergy typically occurs quickly, is triggered by only a tiny amount of the offending food, and is life-threatening. The reaction also occurs every time the food is consumed.

Food intolerance, on the other hand, usually comes on slowly, may only occur when consuming a large amount of the food, and is not life-threatening. If you are unsure which reaction you or a family experience, you should consult an allergist.

Egg allergy
In October 2013, the ACAAI issued a statement that people who have an egg allergy, even if it is severe, can receive a flu vaccine without requiring special precautions. In fact, the ACAAI went so far as to say that any steps beyond those normally followed when giving any type of vaccine “are not warranted.”

Whether this assurance or the one associated with a gelatin allergy is any comfort to parents is uncertain. Some individuals will likely feel relieved while others will remain skeptical or even completely unconvinced.

Flu shots are recommended for everyone age six months and older with some exceptions. The vaccination is available either as a shot or a nasal spray, and both of these forms contain gelatin and egg.

American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology—gelatin statement
ACAAI—egg allergy statement

Image: USACE Europe District/Flickr