Health Matters

Power Struggle: Pain Meds May Weaken Your Flu Shot

Nov. 17, 2014
Just got your flu shot? Good for you! Experts say that’s one of the best ways to ward off winter illness. And though that shot can’t give you the flu, it may leave you with some temporary discomforts. Resist the urge to reach for a pain remedy. It may be best to tough it out.
woman's hands with glass of water and pills
University of Rochester researcher Dr. Richard Phipps says common, over-the-counter pain relievers—like Advil, Tylenol, and aspirin—may sap your flu shot’s strength.
In studies using virus particles, live virus, and different kinds of pain relievers, research shows that pain relievers interfere with the effect of the vaccine. In fact, even though pain relievers have different ingredients, they seem to dilute the production of necessary antibodies that protect you from getting sick.
Many of these pain relievers—known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs—work in part by blocking a particular enzyme, but that same enzyme is important in the production of immunity-boosting cells. When you take a medication to reduce pain and fever, you might also inadvertently reduce the ability of these cells to make antibodies. The connection between NSAIDs and antibody production is still under study, but it’s wise to at least be aware of the potential risks.
NSAIDs are among the most commonly used drugs, recommended for all ages and prescribed for a wide range of issues from minor pain to serious inflammatory diseases. By reducing the body’s ability to make antibodies, NSAIDs may also weaken the immune system, which can have serious consequences for children, the elderly and the immune-compromised patients.
When in doubt about medications, it’s best to talk with your doctor or pharmacist. If you need help finding a doctor, click here or call (585) 784-8891.
Richard Phipps, PhD
Richard Phipps, Ph.D., is professor of Environmental Medicine University of Rochester. His research interests include studying diseases that involve immune and inflammatory components.