Every year at about the same time, most people consider getting a flu shot. However, there are people who hesitate going in for them these days due to the rumors they’ve heard about side effects. The truth is that, while there are some side effects, most of them are generally quite rare. It is, however, important to keep them in mind.

The type of side effect actually differs depending on which type of shot you get. The standard needle injected shot is the most common. However, you can also get a flu shot through a nasal spray. The nasal spray isn’t recommended for the elderly, infants, pregnant women, or anyone who’s already sick. Unlike the needle injection, the nasal spray contains live – albeit altered – flu cells. For that reason, it’s only given to people older than 2, younger than 49, and healthy.

Potential Allergic Reactions
First off, it’s a good idea to understand the potential serious side effects. It’s possible, though rare, for the shot to cause an allergic reaction. These generally show up in people who get the flu shot and are allergic to eggs. Hives and anaphylaxis are the two most common allergic reactions. While hives isn’t that big of a problem on its own, anaphylaxis carries a risk of death. Because of this, if you’re allergic to eggs you will not be given a flu shot. It’s not a guarantee that you’ll have a reaction but why risk it? For similar reasons, flu shots are not given to children less than 6 months old or anyone who’s already ill with a fever.

Caused by Needle Injected Flu Shot
Even with the bigger warnings out of the way, there are still some side effects that can prove annoying. The needle injected flu shot is incapable of causing the flu, as it has only dead flu cells, but it can cause some bothersome side effects. The most common ones are found around the injection site. These are fairly easy to handle. Just keep an eye out for an unusual amount of redness, swelling, or soreness right where you got your shot. You might also get some slight chills, a bit of muscle pain, a fever lasting for a day maximum; usually just a couple of hours or a mild headache. If you’re going to have any side effects, you’ll notice them within a couple of hours. As mentioned, they usually last a day but they can last up to two days maximum.

Caused by Nasal Spray Flu Shot
While the nasal spray vaccine does use living cells, they are altered to ensure you don’t get the flu. This leads to something of a trade off. The list of side effects is slightly shorter but they’re also a bit nastier. Most people who get the nasal spray and have a side effect only have to deal with a slight cough, a sore throat or a runny nose. However, there is a risk of having to deal with a mild fever, a headache, muscle pain, nausea or even vomiting. This is because the cells used in the vaccine are live and thus still capable of causing you some issues. Like the needle injected vaccine, these side effects last between a couple of hours to two full days before clearing up.

To conclude, the side effects of flu shots tend to be mild at worst. As long as you’re not in the small demographic that can suffer an allergic reaction, you should be fine. If you are considering getting a flu shot this year, talk to your doctor or physician to get a medical opinion on whether or not you could suffer from the side effects of a flu vaccine.

Author:  Michelle Holincheck, FNP

For more cold and flu information, visit Careworks.