Identifying common flu shot side effects and how you can treat them
While the flu shot has protective benefits, some people can experience side effects. Fortunately, the effects are usually mild and go away in a few days. Knowing about possible side effects beforehand can help you deal with them.
Why get the flu shot?
Flu season typically runs from September through February. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages everyone 6 months and older (with rare exceptions) to get an annual flu vaccine, ideally by the end of October. The CDC also advises that vaccination should continue, even in January or later, as long as flu viruses are circulating .
There are important reasons why you should get a flu shot as soon as it’s available. Getting a flu shot provides a range of benefits, for you and others around you:
It’s protective. If you think the flu isn’t serious, think again. The CDC estimates that 22,000 Americans died of the flu and its complications during the 2019-2020 flu season .
Getting a flu shot helps to protect you and others from sickness and flu-related deaths. It prevents most people from catching the flu, but some people still get sick. People who get a flu shot and still catch the flu usually experience milder symptoms.
It’s effective. The flu vaccine is the first and best way to reduce your chances of getting the flu and spreading it to others. Studies show that by receiving an annual flu shot, you may be up to 60 percent less likely to need treatment for the flu . If you are still on the fence, you can learn more about why you should get a flu shot to help you make your decision. When you are ready to get vaccinated, you can use our flu shot resource guide for members to walk through the next steps.
Common flu shot side effects
The CDC lists these common side effects of the flu shot :
- Arm pain, soreness, redness, and/or swelling from the shot
- Muscle aches
Preventing flu shot side effects
When you get a flu shot, you might be in for some discomfort, but there are steps you can take before and after the shot to limit the pain.
Before the shot:
- Take 3-5 deep breaths. This will help relax your muscles, including your arm muscle.
- Distract yourself. Chew sugar-free gum. This will release feel-good chemicals called endorphins that can reduce your perception of pain.
- Ease your mind. Look away if you’re afraid of needles. Tell the health care provider you don’t want to know when he or she is about to deliver the shot.
- Choose wisely. Ask to get the shot in your nondominant arm. That way, your primary arm will not hurt as you do day-to-day activities.
After the shot:
- Apply pressure. Compression can help reduce inflammation.
- Use cold and warm compresses. Ice the area to reduce any swelling. After a few days, try a warm compress to relax your arm muscle and improve your blood flow.
- Use a pain reliever. After the shot, take acetaminophen or ibuprofen if pain develops in the days after you get the shot.
- Keep moving. Use your arm, don’t keep it still. You want to get blood flowing to the area.
Don’t let fear or a lack of information stop you from getting a flu shot. If you have questions, ask your doctor. He or she can address any issues you have. You also can talk to your doctor if you need help managing side effects. Call your doctor or seek medical attention if you develop more serious complications, such as a high fever, wheezing, hives, or weakness.
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu vaccine safety information. Last reviewed: September 17, 2019. Accessed October 1, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/general.htm