Tetanus Shot Reactions

You can get a disease called tetanus by getting infected with a bacterium known as Clostridium tetani, which exists on the surface of rusty nails and other metals. Tetanus can be life-threatening with a fatality rate that approaches 11 percent. In order to prevent getting tetanus, you should always get a tetanus shot if you have been cut by a rusty nail or have an injury that exposes to Clostridium spores. After a tetanus shot, you can get tetanus shot reactions, which are usually minor but can be serious in rare situations.

Tetanus Shot Reactions from Mild to Severe

A tetanus vaccination is made out of tetanus toxoid, a material from the organism itself. It causes you to make antibodies that fight off the tetanus microorganism. Tetanus shots are given to children as a portion of the DPT vaccine. If you have received all of your DPT vaccinations while you were a child, you will still need to get a booster vaccination every ten years. After the injection, some reactions can occur.

1.  Mild

  • ŸPain and stiffness. A typical mild reaction is pain or stiffness at the place where the injection was given. This is the most common reaction. More than 75 percent of people who get the tetanus shot will have stiffness and localized pain or pain that involves the entire upper aspect of the arm for a few days. About 1-3 percent of people will actually get some type of muscle wasting that causes an aching pain in the arm for several weeks or even several months. The pain is usually mild, however, and you can usually go about your daily activities. If the pain is persistent past a month or so, you may need to seek the advice from your doctor. Other common symptoms accompanied these include a hard lump in the area of the injection site and a brief period of numbness.
  • ŸSwelling and redness. The tetanus vaccine is usually associated with redness, mild swelling or irritation near the site of the injection. This usually goes away on its own within a few days without having to do anything to treat it. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) or aspirin can bring down the inflammation and the swelling you may get if needed.

2.  Moderate

  • ŸVomiting. One of the tetanus shot reactions you can get involves having irritation of the stomach. When this happens, you can get vomiting, nausea, or diarrhea that usually goes away by itself. In most situations, this is a mild to moderate reaction, happening only 3 percent of the time in teens and about 1 percent in adults receiving the vaccine.
  • ŸImmune response. The tetanus shot is a shot that contains an immunogenic toxoid, meaning that antibodies are formed as a result of getting the shot. Some people can actually get reactions that include being extremely tired and having a fever as the body forms an immune response. Other symptoms are muscle aches that can be local or generalized along with sore lymph nodes. These symptoms are self-limited and go away on their own without treatment.

3.  Severe

  • ŸAllergic symptoms. It is rare to have tetanus shot reactions that are serious enough to need treatment. An allergic reaction to the shot is very rare but can be life-threatening. When you get an allergic response to the shot, you can get swelling of your face, swelling of the lips, limb swelling, and dizziness. This can be accompanied by a change in breathing pattern and heart rate. If you have a family history of tetanus shot allergies, you should talk to the doctor about whether or not you should be getting the tetanus shot.
  • ŸOther severe side effects. It is possible to suffer from a coma, generalized seizures or brain damage following the getting of a tetanus shot. Fortunately, this is not very common.

4.  Very Rare Reactions

  • Blood in the stool or urine. In rare circumstances, you can get blood in the stool or urine after a tetanus shot. It can be caused by damage to the kidneys or from inflammation of the lining of the stomach or intestines. You should see a doctor if you get these side effects so that the doctor can find out what is going on and prevent it from happening again.
  • Pneumonia. The shot causes the immune system to become overloaded, so you may get pneumonia. This is a rare side effect that usually happens in people who already have a poor immune system. If you have a high risk for pneumonia or have an immune disease, you should ask your doctor about the safety of getting a tetanus shot. If you develop symptoms of pneumonia after getting a tetanus shot, you should make an appointment with your doctor for further evaluation and management.

Despite these possible reactions, you'd better get tetanus shots if you need, learn why from the following video.

How to Deal With Tetanus Shot Reaction

The treatment of tetanus shot reactions depends on what type of reaction you get and on how severe the reaction is. Here are some tips:

  • Put a cold rag on the site of the vaccination to lessen the swelling and pain.
  • Take over the counter medications like ibuprofen and Benadryl to lessen the itching and fever you might get with the shot.
  • If you are suffering from tiredness, nausea, or vomiting after getting a tetanus shot, treat it like a cold or flu and get plenty of rest, while taking in light meals and fluids until you improve.
  • See a doctor if you develop anaphylaxis or an allergic reaction to the vaccine. If you have irritability, confusion, fever greater than 103 degrees, severe tiredness, blistering at the site, ongoing headaches, swelling, severe vomiting, or swollen glands in the axilla, you should seek medical attention right away. 
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