COVID Arm vs. severe allergic reaction to vaccine

Source: Live 5
Updated: Apr. 8, 2021 at 6:59 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Have you heard of COVID Arm?

The condition doesn’t have anything to do with contacting the COVID virus; it refers to a red, itchy, swollen and sometimes painful rash that can develop on your arm where you get a COVID 19 vaccine.

The CDC says “These rashes can start a few days to more than a week after the first shot and are sometimes quite large.”

This is just one of the side effects that are possible. It doesn’t happen to very many people. It’s rare,” Dr. Melissa Ellis-Yarian with Roper Express Care said.

It’s temporary and treatable with an antihistamine or a pain reliever like Tylenol or ibuprofen, she said.

Dr. Ellis-Yarian added, “There’s a difference between experiencing side effects after you get a vaccine and having a true allergic reaction.”

Dr. Meredith Moore with Charleston Allergy & Asthma says allergic reactions to the COVID vaccines are not unheard of but rare.

For example, the federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System shows 10 cases of anaphylaxis in more than 4 million doses of Moderna COVID vaccine from December 21, 2020–January 10, 2021.

“Anaphylaxis goes beyond just having hives,” Dr. Moore said. “It actually encompasses when the heart and lungs are involved. And then it can affect how much oxygen gets to your brain and the rest of your vital organs.”

If you have had severe reactions to vaccines in the past and are concerned, Allergists like Dr. Moore can now test you for the ingredients in the COVID vaccine to see how you react before you get your shot.

“We’ve done ten to twelve tests on patients and we have had people come up positive [for allergy], so then it becomes a risk-based discussion with their allergists about if they should get the COVID vaccine and in what setting,” Dr. Moore explained.

The CDC says severe allergic reaction or immediate allergic reaction to the shot means you should hold off getting the second shot.

But if it’s simply a rash or COVID Arm, the CDC says patients “should still get the second shot.”

“Your rash will go away, but what will remain is your immunity to COVID, which is what’s most important,” Dr. Ellis-Yarian said.

The CDC set guidelines for COVID vaccine clinics to have medication, including Epinephrine, and supplies on hand just in case someone has a bad allergic reaction to the vaccine.

“An allergic reaction is considered severe when a person needs to be treated with epinephrine or EpiPen© or if they must go to the hospital,” the agency said online.

Dr. Moore said 70% of reactions happened within 15 minutes, so it’s important to sit in the waiting area for the full recommend time after you get your COVID shot.

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