What People with Asthma Need to Know About COVID-19 Vaccines

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Can the COVID-19 vaccine worsen asthma symptoms?

While some people have anecdotally reported worsening asthma symptoms after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, current scientific evidence hasn’t found a clear link between asthma and an increased risk of side effects.

In a 2021 case study, a single person with severe asthma experienced worsening symptoms following the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. However, researchers were not able to definitively establish a cause-and-effect relationship and were unable to draw conclusions based on a single case study. More research is needed to determine if any relationship exists.

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The benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine far outweigh any possible chance of worsening asthma symptoms. This is especially the case if you have severe or uncontrolled asthma, or if you have any comorbidities — other conditions in addition to your asthma — such as diabetes or obesity.

Should people with asthma get a COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes. The CDC recommends people with asthma get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon they can.

People with moderate, severe, or uncontrolled asthma are more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19 than people without asthma.

Clinical trials assessing the safety and effectiveness of the three COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the United States included people with moderate or severe asthma. For example, the Moderna clinical trials included people with chronic lung diseases such as:

  • moderate to severe asthma
  • emphysema
  • chronic bronchitis
  • pulmonary fibrosis
  • cystic fibrosis

What are the risks of getting a COVID-19 vaccine for people with asthma?

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People with asthma don’t appear to be at a higher risk of developing COVID-19 vaccine side effects. The chances of developing severe complications from vaccines are very rare.

Here’s a brief look at the most commonly reported side effects of the three COVID-19 vaccines currently used in the United States.

Side effects submitted via VAERS are anecdotal and are not verified by the CDC as vaccine-related. They can be submitted by anyone.

Pfizer-BioNTech

From the 305,145,563 Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines administered, the CDC lists 322,281 total reported adverse events, including 769 cases of asthma and 9 cases of exercise-induced asthma. The 10 most common side effects are:

  • headache
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • pain
  • dizziness
  • chills
  • nausea
  • pain in limbs
  • labored breathing
  • joint pain
Moderna
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From the 198,923,979 Moderna COVID-19 vaccines administered, the CDC lists 329,457 reported adverse events. Asthma was reported 688 times and exercise- induced asthma three times. The 10 most common side effects are:

  • headache
  • fever
  • fatigue
  • chills
  • pain
  • pain in limbs
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • injection site pain
  • injection site redness
Johnson & Johnson

From the 17,863,666 Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines administered, the CDC lists 63,801 reported adverse events, including 128 cases of asthma and 2 cases of exercise-induced asthma. The 10 most common side effects are:

  • headache
  • fever
  • chills
  • fatigue
  • pain
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • pain in limbs
  • labored breathing
  • muscle aches

Are the risks of having COVID-19 different for people with asthma?

Despite the fact that research hasn’t found that having mild asthma increases your risk of getting COVID-19, it’s still important for people with asthma to take precautions to avoid illness and to make sure they take all their asthma medications as prescribed.

Frequently asked questions

Are asthma patients at higher risk of developing severe illness from COVID-19?

Your risk of developing severe illness from COVID-19 while having asthma depends on a combination of the following factors:

  • the severity of your asthma
  • your age
  • how well your asthma is managed with your current treatment plan
  • whether you have any other medical conditions
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While there’s still conflicting evidence regarding the link between asthma and developing severe illness from COVID-19, the CDC still suggests poorer potential outcomes in people with moderate to severe asthma.

No matter how severe your asthma is, COVID-19 vaccination can help decrease your risk of developing severe illness from SARS-CoV-2.

Who should not get the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine?

Currently, the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is only approved for adults 18 years of age and older.

While this vaccine has been found to be safe throughout clinical trials, the CDC does notrecommend the Moderna series for people who are allergic to polyethylene glycol (PEG). The same rule applies to the Pfizer vaccine.

What are some exemptions from the COVID-19 vaccine?
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Currently, the CDC has identified two types of workplace exemptions from the COVID-19 vaccine. The first is if you have an allergy to any of the ingredients, such as PEG or polysorbate. PEG is an ingredient in both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine contains polysorbate.

The second possible workplace exemption is known as a religious exemption.

Can I take the Pfizer vaccine if I have severe allergies?

The CDC recommends that if you have a severe allergy to any of the ingredients in a COVID-19 vaccine, you should not get the vaccine.

Like the Moderna vaccine, the Pfizer vaccine contains PEG. You shouldn’t get this vaccine if you have an allergy to PEG. If you cannot get either of these vaccines due to an allergy, you may be able to get a different type of vaccine.

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However, the CDC says that COVID-19 vaccination is safe for people with other types of severe allergies. These include allergies to:

  • foods
  • latex
  • animals
  • pollen
  • medications

How is asthma treated?

Asthma doesn’t have a cure, but a combination of breathing exercises and medications can treat it. Some medications are quick-acting and treat asthma attacks, while others are for long-term management.

Asthma treatment options

The following treatments can help manage asthma:

  • Breathing exercises. Doctors and occupational therapists can teach you breathing exercises that can help you increase lung capacity and cut down on severe asthma symptoms.
  • Bronchodilators. Bronchodilators are medications used to relax the muscles in your airways and to stimulate quick relief of asthma symptoms.
  • Long- term medications. A number of medications may be recommended for long-term use to reduce symptoms. These medications include: anti-inflammatories (i.e., inhaled corticosteroids or leukotriene inhibitors)anticholinergicslong- acting bronchodilatorsbiologic therapy drugsBronchial thermoplasty. Bronchial thermoplasty is a treatment that uses electrodes to heat your airways to prevent the muscles in your airway from tightening. This treatment is only for people with severe asthma and is not widely available.
What you can do at home: Tips for managing asthma

No home remedies can treat asthma attacks. Asthma attacks require a rescue inhaler and immediate medical attention.

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The following home remedies may help you manage general asthma symptoms:

  • eating an overall balanced diet
  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • reducing your exposure to lung irritants, like dust, pollen, or mold
  • avoiding smoking
  • getting vaccinated for the flu and COVID-19
  • taking precautions to avoid respiratory illness, like frequent handwashing and wearing a face mask

Is it an emergency?

Severe asthma attacks require immediate medical attention.

Symptoms of an asthma emergency can include:

  • severe shortness of breath and trouble speaking
  • rapid breathing that causes your chest or ribs to visibly retract
  • an inability to perform normal activities
  • symptoms that don’t get better after using a rescue inhaler
  • trouble breathing in or out fully
  • developing blue or pale fingernails, lips, or face
  • flaring nostrils while breathing rapidly
  • straining of your chest muscles while breathing heavily

It’s important to also seek medical attention if you develop other concerning symptoms that don’t fall into any of these categories.

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If you’re not sure whether you’re having an asthma emergency, it’s best to seek emergency medical care.

What to do in an asthma emergency

  • you don’t have your inhaler
  • you feel worse after using your inhaler
  • you don’t feel better after 10 puffs
  • you feel worried at any point

The bottom line

Some people report their asthma symptoms flaring up after vaccination, but there’s no scientific evidence that people with asthma are at an increased risk of vaccine side effects.

If you have asthma and have concerns about getting vaccinated, you can make an appointment with your doctor to ask any questions you may have.

Read this article in Spanish.

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