Anyone who has stepped on a rusty nail, been bitten by a dog or cut his hand with a knife is likely familiar with receiving a tetanus shot. The tetanus vaccine usually is given to children as part of a series of shots they receive between the ages of 2 months and 6 years of age. Adults should receive a booster shot once every 10 years, but many — fearing tetanus shot pain — often put off getting the vaccine until they really need it. The pain can be alleviated, however, by using pre- and post-vaccine pain relief methods.
Most people tolerate the tetanus immunization without too many side effects, though some people do experience pain from a tetanus shot. Taking a non-aspirin pain reliever, such as acetaminophen, or Tylenol, both before and after receiving the shot will help reduce both pain and fever. Ibuprofen may also be effective. In most people, the pain should subside after a day or two of taking pain-relief medication.
In infants, pain medication may reduce the effectiveness of the tetanus shot. A parent should talk with his or her child's pediatrician before giving a baby such medicine to see if the benefits outweigh the risks. Additionally, a doctor will need to rule out other health issues in young children.
If the site of the tetanus immunization becomes swollen, one trick to reduce tetanus shot pain. is to use ice to help reduce the swelling. Ice can help to numb the site and reduce any inflammation in the area. Place an ice pack at the site or grab a bag of frozen vegetables from your freezer and place that where you received your tetanus shot. You also may want to wet and freeze a clean washcloth or dishrag and place the frozen cloth on the injection site. Apply ice for 10 to 15 minutes several times throughout the day.
After the first 48 hours, using a damp cloth or a heating pad to apply heat to the affected area may be more effective than cold in managing tetanus shot pain. Pain can make it tempting to keep the affected area still. Some of the pain stems from muscle ache, though, so moving or using the arm that has received the tetanus shot may also help to reduce the soreness.
Unfortunately, the best way to get rid of tetanus shot pain is to wait it out. The pain will usually go away on its own after a few days. You should remain proactive while waiting, though. Call your doctor if you develop a high fever; experience hoarseness, wheezing, or difficulty breathing; or if you develop hives, paleness, weakness, a fast heart beat or dizziness.
What are Other Possible Tetanus Shot Side Effects?
Pain at the site of injection is the most common side effect of tetanus shots. However, there are a few other common symptoms you might experience as well.
Possible side effects of the tetanus shot include:
- Poor appetite
A small percentage of people may experience severe side effects from the tetanus vaccine.
Signs of a severe reaction to the tetanus shot include:
- Skin, mouth, or throat swelling
- Difficulty breathing
- Rapid heartbeat
- Blacking out
- Fevers over 105 Fahrenheit
If you experience any of these symptoms, call a doctor or go to the emergency room as soon as possible.
What are Different Types of Tetanus Shots?
There are four different types of tetanus shots. Some types can protect against other diseases such as diphtheria and pertussis. The type of tetanus shot you receive may depend on your age, where you live, and your vaccine history. Unfortunately, there is no difference between these shots regarding side effects and soreness after the injection. So no matter which vaccine you get, expect some discomfort and mild pain.
The DTaP vaccine protects against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (also known as whooping cough.) This is the most common tetanus shot for children under 7 years old. Children will typically get five doses of this vaccine throughout the first few years of their life.
The DT vaccine can protect you from both tetanus and diphtheria. This vaccine, like DTaP, is mainly for younger children. However, the DT shot does not protect against pertussis. Most doctors will only recommend this shot for children who have had severe reactions to pertussis vaccines in the past.
The Tdap vaccine is for people over seven years old. It protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. Many people will get the Tdap shot during pregnancy to give their baby immunity to whooping cough.
Like the DT vaccine, the Td vaccine protects against tetanus and diphtheria, but not pertussis. The only difference is that it is for people over 7 years old. If you’ve had a severe reaction to the Tdap vaccine in the past, the DT vaccine may be a safer option for you.
Who Should Not Get the Tetanus Shot?
While the tetanus shot is a life-saving vaccine for most people, it can be life-threatening to others. Because of this, some people should avoid the tetanus vaccine altogether.
You should not get a tetanus shot if any of the following apply to you:
- You have experienced severe allergic reactions to tetanus vaccines in the past.
- You have experienced severe side effects such as seizures or comas after past tetanus vaccinations.
- You have Guillain-Barre syndrome.
Remember that there are several types of tetanus vaccines available. So if you’ve had a serious reaction to one type of tetanus shot, there may be another version that will be safer for you. Consult your doctor to determine whether there’s a tetanus shot that will work for you.
Why the Tetanus Shot is Important
Because of the side effects and pain that come with this vaccine, many people feel reluctant to stay up to date on their tetanus shots. Younger children or people with needle phobias may also feel anxious about getting the tetanus shot. As a result, some people may feel that the tetanus shot is more trouble than it’s worth. However, the tetanus shot is a life-saving vaccine, and failing to get tetanus shots can put your health at risk.
People who can safely get the tetanus shot should stay up to date on their boosters. Anyone can get tetanus, whether it’s through a dog bite or a puncture wound from a rusty nail.
Tetanus can cause symptoms such as seizures, muscle spasms, and paralysis. Even in non-fatal cases, this illness can leave people with long-term health issues.
Around 11% of people who get tetanus do not recover. Children, older people, and people with compromised immune systems have higher risks of dying from tetanus.
Fortunately, the tetanus vaccine is very effective. People who have received all of their doses have a significantly lower risk of getting tetanus. Because vaccination is so successful, there are roughly 30 cases of tetanus in the US every year—and nearly all of them are in unvaccinated individuals.