Feeling squeamish about getting your annual flu shot? We asked an expert for some advice in making the uncomfortable experience a little bit easier.
Nurse Janet Li-Tall has given thousands of flu shots in her 11 years working at the Occupational Health department of UCLA Health. She likes giving them because it protects the staff and patients, but she acknowledges that it’s human nature to be afraid of pain.
Here, she offers advice on how to get through the flu shot:
• If you are nervous, tell the nurse. She can help distract you by talking and asking questions. “When you are telling me about your weekend plans, it distracts you from thinking about the shot,” says Li-Tall. If you feel like you are going to faint (it happens), you may want to lay down on an exam table to get your vaccine.
•Plan your wardrobe. Wear short sleeves so that the health care professional giving you the shot can easily access your upper arm. If you are attending a public flu vaccine event where privacy may be minimal, consider wearing an undershirt in case you have to remove your outer long-sleeve shirt.
• Get the injection in your non-dominate arm. Actually, it is your choice which side you choose, but if your arm does get sore you’ll notice it less in your non-dominate arm. However, if you have a fresh tattoo or a wound in the injection zone, get the shot in the other arm.
• Relax your arm and let it hang loose. “The needle is going into your muscle so tensing your arm can lead to more pain,” says Li-Tall. To ward off soreness, massage the shot area immediately after the injection and move your arm around to keep the muscle moving and help your body absorb the medicine. To prevent muscle pain, consider taking an ibuprofen.
• Beware of infections. Here’s what to watch out for—the nurse should wash her hands or use alcohol-based hand rub and then put on sterile gloves. Take note of how she cleans the injection site—an alcohol prep pad should be used to wipe the skin in the middle of the injection site, then wiping in an outward circle away from the where the needle will go. The shot will be given about two-to-three fingers breadth below your shoulder bone. Then, the nurse will aim the shot at a 90 degree angle (like playing darts) into the muscle, push the plunger in a swift and smooth motion and pull out the needle.
Li-Tall says it’s typically the medicine going in that causes discomfort, not the needle itself. So why do some shots hurt more than others?
“Sometimes the nurse just happens to hit a sensitive part,” she says. “The good news is that the soreness will only last a day or two, but it’s worth it to protect yourself from getting the flu.”
Visit www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/flushot.htm for more information on seasonal flu shots.