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Intracranial Hypertension and the Pfizer Vaccine

Last Thursday, I received my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. I chose Pfizer because one source I’d read (and have since forgotten) pointed out that it had a slightly lower instance of headache as a side effect when compared to Moderna. Since I have intracranial hypertension, I figured anything that made me less likely to be in brain-crushing pain was probably the way to go.

I haven’t seen a lot of resources related to how people with IH respond to the COVID vaccine, even in my support groups. This made me a little anxious and hesitant — at first, I wanted to wait to see what other people’s experiences were, even just anecdotally. When a few weeks passed and I hadn’t found any more information than I started with, I figured, screw it. Be the anecdote.

So here’s my totally subjective and not at all scientific experience with getting the Pfizer COVID vaccine.

First, let me begin by saying that I kind of saw this coming. Curious as I was, I did a small Lenormand reading so I could prepare myself. Let’s just say that Tree + Cross is not exactly a recipe for good times. Bummer.

I read advice suggesting to eat something before going in. My appointment was fairly early for my schedule, and I don’t often have much of an appetite most mornings. I drank a cup of soymilk and figured it was close enough.

The shot itself was fine. It didn’t even hurt. I felt slightly lightheaded afterward, which I attribute to anxiety. Since I have other allergies, I had to sit and wait for a half an hour of observation to make sure I didn’t react. Everything was fine.

I went home, still feeling about the same. Drank a can of Olipop (root beer, yessss) and had chicken pot pie for dinner. My arm was sore, and my stomach felt a bit upset. I was also getting itchy, though I didn’t appear to have a rash.

Twelve hours after the shot, however… Hoo boy.

I was dizzy. Very, very dizzy. I’d hoped that a lower instance of headache also correlated to a decreased risk of dizziness, but these hopes were misplaced. Fortunately, the dizziness didn’t seem tied to an increase in cerebrospinal fluid pressure. When my CSF pressure goes up, I get very definite visual signals. This time? Nada. Just dizzy. I also had a bit of a hollow ache in my cervical spine and the back of my head, but not enough to worry about.

I also experienced (more) brain fog. At one point, I forgot how to describe fevers. High? Low? I ended up telling my partner, “I think I have a fever, but not an important one.”

The day after was particularly rough, largely because it coincided with a big thunderstorm. Anyone who’s experienced IH can tell you how the weather impacts everything — we get headaches, neck aches, back aches, visual disturbances, dizziness, phantom smells, the works. Coupled with the post-vax feelings of general crappiness, and I had to strap in for a sucky night.

By Saturday, the headache and dizziness had receded into the background. I felt well enough to go out for a walk by Lake Accotink and a quick trip to Occoquan for Beltane supplies, but I definitely felt things more as the day wore on. Moving around a lot seemed to make the dizziness return, albeit not nearly as bad as the first day. I came home, took a nap, drank a lot of herbal tea, and felt better than evening. I had to put off my Beltane observance for a day, but I think everyone understood.

Ultimately, my experience wasn’t a bad one. For one, things could totally have been worse. Secondly, feeling gross is a sign that my immune system is reacting to the shot. That’s what’s supposed to happen. If I feel crappy, it means its doing something. A robust immune response feels bad, man. As long as I’m not experiencing side effects that aren’t related to my immune response, things are okay.

If I had to offer advice based on this experience, I’d say:

  • Schedule an appointment for when you’ll have some time off.
  • Have a snack before you go.
  • Eat lightly the rest of the day.
  • Stock up on cold ginger ale, ginger tea, peppermint, and other gentle nausea-fighting remedies.
  • Try to schedule your appointment so you can sleep through when the dizziness hits. For me, that took about twelve hours.
  • Have some ice packs ready to go. They’ll help a little with the dizziness and aches.
  • Keep an eye on the weather.
  • Maybe don’t do anything super physical for a few days afterward. Like, don’t plan to start a new gym routine or run any marathons or anything.

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