Shingles is a painful, tingling skin rash caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. While shingles can occur at any age, the shingles virus usually affects people over 40. In fact, shingles is 10 times more likely to occur in adults over 60 than in children under 10.
What Causes Shingles?
Shingles happens when the virus that causes chickenpox becomes active again in your body. After you have had chickenpox, the virus is dormant or inactive in your nerve roots. In some people, the shingles virus stays inactive forever. In others, the shingles virus awakens when the immune system is weakened by stress, disease or aging.
Who Is at Risk for Shingles?
If you had the chickenpox virus, you may develop shingles. Even kids and young adults get shingles, although this virus commonly affects older adults. Risk factors include:
- Certain cancers like leukemia and lymphoma
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
- Immunosuppressive drugs, such as steroids and drugs that are given after organ transplantation
- Recovered from chickenpox
- Suppressed immune system
What are the Symptoms of Shingles?
Shingles starts as a rash on one side of the face or body. The shingles rash starts as tiny blisters that scab after three to five days. After two to four weeks, the shingles rash usually clears up. Before the rash appears, you may notice pain, itching or tingling in the area where the rash will develop. Many people get fever, headache, chills or upset stomach with the shingles rash. Although rare, shingles can lead to pneumonia, hearing loss, blindness, brain inflammation (encephalitis) or death.
Is There a Shingles Cure?
There are antiviral medications, including acyclovir, valacyclovir and famciclovir, which are used to treat the symptoms of shingles. While there is no shingles cure, these medications will help to shorten the length and severity of the virus. As soon as the shingles rash appears, see your doctor right away. Medications must be used as early as possible to be beneficial. Additionally, pain medication may ease the pain with shingles. Wet compresses, oatmeal baths and over the counter calamine lotion can help ease the irritation and itching.
Can You Prevent Shingles?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a shingles vaccine for people over age 60 to lower the chance of getting shingles and long-term pain from post-herpetic neuralgia. Talk to your doctor to see if a shingles vaccine would be recommended. The shingles vaccine is available in pharmacies and doctor’s offices.
The Queen’s Referral Line can help you find a primary care doctor. Call 808-691-7117.