Published Dec 19, 2023

What to do (and what to avoid) after a flu shot

Dr. Sudip Bose
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Sudip Bose
Young ill man with cold and high fever lying on sofa at home. Cold and flu season.
Published Dec 19, 2023

Key points:

  • The flu vaccine can reduce the chance you’ll contract the flu virus or reduce the severity of your infection if you get ill.
  • Most people feel fine after getting their shot, and chances are you’ll be able to continue your daily routine after getting your vaccine.
  • Some people experience mild soreness in their arm or feel tired for a day or two. Rest and medicines like Acetaminophen are usually enough to help manage side effects.

We get it—no one likes getting shots. But the flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from this seasonal virus. Millions of people get their flu vaccine every year, and decades of research show that it’s safe, effective and generally causes few side effects.

Still, it’s a good idea to know what to expect after getting your annual shot—from what to avoid after your flu vaccine to the best self-care tips. Below, our Dr. B team shares all the answers.

And if you do get sick, we can help with that, too. Read on to learn how our $15 online flu consultations can help you determine whether an antiviral medication could help you recover faster.

How bad are flu shot side effects?

Most people feel completely fine after getting their flu vaccine. Some people feel tired for a few days or develop pain or soreness in the arm where they got the injection. A few will develop a fever. In the majority of cases, these symptoms are mild and go away in a day or two.

The most common side effects of the flu vaccine are:

  • Pain or soreness at the injection site
  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Body or muscle aches
  • Fever
  • Irritability

Very rarely, people have more serious side effects. Allergies to the flu vaccine can happen—but they’re uncommon. If you notice signs of an allergic reaction like itching, trouble breathing or swelling in your mouth or throat, get emergency medical help immediately.

Medications to avoid after a flu shot

Continuing your regular medications is okay unless your medical provider tells you otherwise. Very few medications interact with the vaccine—but check with your provider to be safe.

If you develop pain or a fever after getting your vaccine, using over-the-counter medications like Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is fine. But some research suggests that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) can interfere with your body’s immune response to the vaccine. (Acetaminophen works differently than NSAIDs, so it doesn’t cause the same issue.)

NSAIDs include:

  • Ibuprofen
  • Advil
  • Aleve
  • Naproxen
  • Aspirin

As long as your symptoms are mild, you might want to skip NSAID medications for one or two days before your shot and up to a week after. If you regularly take aspirin or other NSAIDs (like Celebrex for arthritis), talk to your provider before stopping your medicine.

Are there foods I should avoid after a flu shot?

It’s okay to follow your regular diet. The only thing that you should potentially avoid is alcohol. Alcohol can cause side effects similar to the vaccine (like tiredness and headache), making you feel worse.

As always, it’s essential to support your immune system by eating a varied diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. These foods will help your body stay healthy and strong all through flu season.

Can I exercise after getting a flu shot?

While some people feel a little tired for a day or two after getting their shot, most people don’t need to stop going to work or school or caring for loved ones. That said, it’s probably a good idea to avoid getting your shot the day before running a marathon or taking your SATs—just in case you feel extra tired for a few days.

But you can exercise after getting your flu shot—and some research shows that exercise can make the shot more effective. One study showed that people who exercised after getting their vaccine had a better immune response than those who didn’t. But if you’re too tired to exercise after getting your shot, taking it easy until you feel back to normal is okay.

Best self-care practices after getting a flu shot

While you can continue your routine after getting a flu shot, you might want to plan for an early bedtime or to Netflix and chill the day after. Best case scenario? You feel fine and get to enjoy some extra time with your remote.

Not feeling so hot after the vaccine? Here’s how to take care of yourself:

  • Continue with normal activities as long as you feel up to it
  • Listen to your body—take it easy if you’re tired or run a fever
  • Drink plenty of fluids and eat a healthy diet
  • Wash your hands and continue practicing good hygiene to avoid getting sick
  • Take Acetaminophen (not Ibuprofen or Aspirin) if you’re in a lot of discomfort
  • Avoid alcohol, which can make side effects feel worse

Banner advertising Dr. B's services for the flu

Can I get the flu after getting my flu shot?

The flu vaccine provides excellent protection against the virus, reducing the risk of illness by 40-60%! Of those who get infected, vaccinated people usually experience milder symptoms and get better faster than unvaccinated people.

Remember that it takes two weeks for the vaccine to reach maximum effectiveness. That’s because it takes time for the vaccine to teach your body how to respond to potential invaders. If you are exposed to the virus just before you get your shot—or in the two weeks after—you could still get sick. This doesn’t mean that the vaccine didn’t work. It’s just bad timing.

If you do catch the flu, take care of yourself. Rest, drink plenty of fluids and stay away from others to avoid spreading the virus. Prescription antiviral medications like Tamiflu (Oseltamivir) can help you get better faster if taken within two days of your first symptoms. So if you need same-day treatment, Dr. B has you covered.

Start a $15 online flu consultation, and a licensed provider will review your information and send a prescription to the pharmacy of your choice (if appropriate). Here’s more about how Dr. B works.

Sources

Carnovale C., et. al. (2018). No signal of interactions between influenza vaccines and drugs used for chronic diseases. Expert Review of Vaccines.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023). Vaccine effectiveness: how well do flu vaccines work?

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023). Flu vaccine safety information.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023). Key facts about seasonal flu vaccine.

Hallam, J., et al (2022). Exercise after influenza or Covid-19 vaccination increases serum antibody without an increase in side effects. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity Journal.

No author. (2023). Influenza vaccine for 2023-2024. The Medical Letter.

Kalarikkal, S.M., et al. (2023). Influenza vaccine. StatPearls Publishing.

McLean, H. Q., et al. (2021). Influenza vaccine effectiveness: new insights and challenges. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine.

University of Rochester Medical Center. (2020). Getting a flu shot? Skip the Advil, Aleve for mild discomfort.

Back to all articles

Sign up for the free Dr. B newsletter for a weekly report on the latest in healthcare + research-based advice for staying healthy and mentally well.