If the flu shot isn’t high on your to-do list, we need to talk. We get it: It can come with side effects that you might not love. But flu season hit earlier and harder this year. And the flu shot is still the best way to avoid it. So we talked to Dr. Timothy Murphy, State University of New York distinguished professor of medicine at University at Buffalo, to learn what flu shot side effects to expect and how to handle them.
Dr. Timothy Murphy - Dr. Timothy Murphy is a State University of New York distinguished professor of medicine at University at Buffalo. He specializes in infectious diseases and vaccine development.
What flu shot side effects could I experience?
The good news: Many people don’t experience any side effects of the flu shot other than arm soreness, said Dr. Murphy. But if you have other symptoms, it may be a sign that your body is “making antibodies and making an immune response to the flu virus,” said Dr. Murphy. “So you can think of it as, 'OK, these aches are good.'”
The most common side effects of the flu shot are:
Soreness at the injection site (aka your arm)
And some less common side effects are:
Dizziness or fainting
Fast heart rate
Flu vaccine side effects usually last a few days at most. And they’re typically mild. But if you experience some of the rarer side effects, talk to your doctor ASAP. Because it may be a sign of an allergic reaction.
And if you decide to get your COVID-19 booster at the same time as your flu shot (which, BTW, is completely safe to do), you may feel the side effects a little more, said Dr. Murphy. “But, hey, that means your immune system is working.”
Got it. How can I deal with the flu shot side effects?
Just got vaxxed? Here are a few things Dr. Murphy recommended to help relieve any side effects:
Ice any soreness in your arm to reduce pain and swelling.
Take over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen for arm soreness, headaches, muscle aches, or a low-grade fever. Note: Some experts believe that taking ibuprofen (hi, Advil) before you get your shot may not be the best move, because it could “dampen the immune response a little bit,” said Dr. Murphy. But taking it afterward is typically fine.
“Herbal teas, such as chamomile and ginger can be very helpful” for nausea, said Dr. Murphy.
Any suggestions for what to avoid after getting a flu shot?
According to Dr. Murphy, there are no restrictions to what you can do after getting a flu shot as long as you feel OK. Even if you have a sore arm, keeping it moving “will increase blood flow and help it resolve more quickly,” he said.
Can the flu shot make you sick?
We mentioned possible side effects. But since there’s no live influenza in the vaccine, you can’t get the flu, Dr. Murphy said.
Flu shots can help you avoid getting the flu at all or at least a severe case of the flu. During the 2019-2020 flu season, the CDC estimates that the vaccine prevented over 100,000 flu-related hospitalizations.
Getting the flu shot, if you can, is the most effective way to reduce your risk of getting the flu and stay healthy this winter. Even if it comes with some inconvenient side effects. And you can grab some tea and Tylenol on your way out of the pharmacy if you're worried about aches or soreness.
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