Here's What To Expect From Your Yearly Flu Shot

If you haven't already gotten your yearly flu shot, there's no better time to do so than now. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that between 2010 and 2020, the flu was responsible for as many as 41 million illnesses each year. The seasonal flu is also linked to a large number of hospitalizations annually, in part because it often makes underlying health conditions worse. For this reason, the CDC recommends the yearly flu shot for everyone aged 6 months and older.

The Mayo Clinic notes that although the flu shot is not 100% effective, it is the best way to prevent catching it and developing complications. It's especially helpful for those who may be more susceptible to hospitalization as a result of preexisting health conditions. Those who are at high risk of complications include young children under 2, adults over 65, those who are pregnant, and immunocompromised individuals, per the Mayo Clinic. Although it may initially develop like the common cold, its symptoms are often more severe. These include fever, aches, runny nose, sore throat, and shortness of breath.

To avoid these risks and the flu altogether, you can get the yearly flu shot, but what are the side effects associated with this common vaccine? Furthermore, is it safe for you to get, specifically if you have an underlying condition? Here is what you need to know.

What happens when you get the yearly flu shot?

Although it's a widely circulated belief that you can get the flu by receiving the yearly flu shot, HealthPartners debunks this myth. Flu vaccines, in general, are created with either a weakened or inactive virus. These help your body learn how to defend itself against the actual flu.

When you receive the flu shot, Self notes that you can expect typical symptoms that accompany other vaccines, such as a sore arm or inflammation at the injection site. However, these symptoms are usually mild and dissipate within 24 hours. While some people develop symptoms shortly after receiving the shot, such as a runny nose, this is typically the sign of a virus picked up elsewhere.

If you do experience symptoms like trouble breathing, hives, or wheezing, it's critical to seek medical attention immediately, as these may be signs of an allergic reaction. Those who are allergic to the vaccine typically show these symptoms anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours after receiving the shot. If you have had an allergic reaction to a different vaccine in the past, it's important to let the person vaccinating you know before receiving the shot. You may also want to speak to your primary care physician before getting your yearly flu shot to discuss any concerns or risks. Your doctor can help you determine what's best for your personal health.

How to stay healthy during flu season

Even after you receive your yearly flu shot, it's in your best interest to take precautionary measures to avoid catching the flu, the common cold, and other ailments. This is especially necessary if you live with someone who is immunocompromised or cannot receive vaccines for protection. The CDC notes that one of the easiest ways to avoid contracting the flu and spreading it is to avoid close contact with people who have it. Washing your hands regularly is also imperative for preventing the spread of potentially harmful bacteria. Some of the best times to wash your hands include before, during, and after preparing food, before and after eating, and after going to the bathroom, per the CDC.

At home, Medical News Today recommends disinfecting and cleaning surfaces, especially if someone in your household is ill. This can prevent the bacteria from spreading to others. Generally speaking, it's also best to avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, especially before washing your hands — doing so can help you avoid catching the flu or cold virus.

If you do contract the flu, MedicalNewsToday notes that there are prescription medications that may help relieve symptoms as you recover. Taking them during the early phase of the flu can also potentially shorten the duration of the flu. Contact your doctor if you suspect you have the flu or severe symptoms of illness.