Nurse Gail Ingram gives insider tips for a painless flu shot:
I have given over ten thousand flu shots in my nursing career. No exaggeration. And I believe that what I’ve learned along the way could help you. Here is some insider information for a problem-free flu shot:
- The person giving you your shot might not have a lot of experience.
I started giving flu shots at campus mobile clinics while still a nursing student. I’m a quick learner, but believe me, that’s not the case for everyone. Feel free to request the most experienced nurse or chose one based on item #2.
- If there are a few nurses giving shots, pick the one using the “dart” technique.
While you’re standing in line, watch the nurses and how they give shots. The faster the needle punctures the skin, the less it hurts. Some nurses slowly push on the skin until the needle pokes a hole in it and this can cause unnecessary pain.
- Decide which arm to get your shot in ahead of time.
If you get the shot in your dominant arm (the one you write with) you are going to notice the soreness more frequently as you use your arm more often. However, with the extra movement, you will be working the vaccine into the muscle more quickly so the pain (if there is any) will go away faster. It is good to be prepared and the choice is yours.
- Make sure the alcohol is dry before the nurse sticks you with the needle.
There are a couple of reasons for this. First, it stings! Have you ever rubbed alcohol in a paper cut? The same thing happens when the alcohol gets pushed through your skin along with the needle. Second, alcohol pads work in two ways. The rubbing action breaks open bacteria’s cell membranes while the evaporation process dries out and kills the bacteria’s insides. You can prevent irritation and infection at the injection site by supervising the cleaning process and waiting for the alcohol to dry. If the nurse is rushing, you can always say that you need a minute to collect yourself or catch your breath before she injects you.
- Relax the muscles in your arm.
When muscles are tense, fibers bunch up and become a tightly enmeshed matrix. This creates a situation where the needle must tear through the compact mass. On the contrary, when muscles are relaxed, a needle will glide between the fibers with ease. So the trick is to relax your shoulder blade which, in turn, relaxes your upper arm. The easiest way to do this is by putting your hand on your hip like a model at a photo shoot. It’s kind of the only glamorous part of getting a flu shot.
- Drink extra water.
Make sure you are well hydrated before you get the shot and keep drinking extra water following the vaccination. This will help for many reasons. A hydrated muscle will recover from the injection and take up the innoculant more efficiently than a dehydrated muscle. Also, water is a buffer while your body is in high-gear building antibodies to the vaccine. The more water you drink, the better you will feel.
- Tylenol has benefits.
Tylenol (acetaminophen) is the gold standard for lowering fevers. It’s used more frequently than Motrin (ibuprofen), Aleve (naproxen), or aspirin and can be taken before you get your flu shot as a preventative measure. Not everyone, but some people, experience a low-grade fever due to increased metabolism while the body processes the vaccine. Just be sure to follow the directions on the bottle and obviously don’t take it if you are allergic or your doctor has specifically advised against it. Tylenol (and water!) will also help with body aches, too. Personally, I take Tylenol when I get the shot, before I go to bed, and again the next day with a few extra glasses of water.