One in 3 people in the US will develop shingles in their lifetime. But what is shingles? Who is at risk of contracting it? Can it be prevented?
Here’s what you need to know about this rash and how you can ease your symptoms if you get it.
What is shingles?
Shingles is a painful, blistering rash. Although some cases are mild, most people with shingles experience severe pain that can last two to four weeks. In some cases, shingles causes complications that can continue for months or even years.
What are the signs and symptoms of shingles?
He first signs of shingles They include pain, itching, or tingling on one side of the body, usually the chest, stomach, or back. You may experience a shooting or burning pain, or the area may feel numb or tingle. Sometimes people feel tired and achy and develop a fever, chills, headache, or upset stomach that can feel like the flu. After a few days, a blistering rash appears on the skin that causes severe pain.
The rash usually appears around the waist, but occasionally on other parts of the body, including the arms, head, or face. You can even have shingles inside your body without a visible rash. If the rash appears on the face, it can damage the eyes. In rare cases, shingles can cause blindness, hearing problems, pneumonia, and inflammation in the brain. Some people who have shingles develop long-term nerve pain called postherpetic neuralgia, which limits daily activity for years. Some people even die from complications of shingles. But for most people, shingles blisters typically scab over in a week or so, and fully heal in two to four weeks.
Who can get shingles?
The chickenpox virus causes both chickenpox and shingles. Even after you recover from chickenpox, the virus remains in the nerves of your body. Most of the time, the virus lies dormant, which means that it is there, but it does not cause problems. However, the virus can reactivate and cause symptoms much worse than the first time.
If you have had chickenpox, you can have shingles. Almost everyone born before 1980 has had chickenpox, even if they don’t remember getting it. If you have been vaccinated against chickenpox, you can still develop shingles, but your risk is much lower than if I had chickenpox.
As you age, your risk of shingles increases, but younger people can also get this uncomfortable condition. If you have a weakened immune system from cancer, cancer treatment, immunosuppressive drugs, or HIV infection, you are at increased risk of getting shingles and its complications. Stress, too much sun, and steroid medications can also cause the chickenpox virus to wake up and cause shingles.
You cannot catch shingles from someone who has the rash. However, if you have never had chickenpox or have not had the chickenpox vaccine, you can get chickenpox from someone who has shingles. Pregnant women, infants, and people with weakened immune systems should avoid contact with anyone who has an active shingles rash, especially if they have not had chickenpox or been vaccinated against chickenpox.
To prevent the spread of the chickenpox virus, people with shingles should:
- Keep the rash covered
- Avoid touching the rash
- Wash hands frequently
What treatments are available for shingles?
To help ensure a quick and full recovery, see your doctor if you think you might have shingles, ideally within three days of the rash appearing. Taking antiviral medicines (such as acyclovir or valacyclovir) may help improve your symptoms more quickly. Pain-reducing medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, can make you more comfortable while you heal.
These self-care steps can also help relieve pain and discomfort from shingles:
- wear loose clothing
- Apply a cool, wet washcloth to the rash.
- Take a bath with colloidal oatmeal or soothe the skin with calamine lotion
- Avoid stress
- get enough rest
- eat nutritious food
- Distract yourself with TV, music, or a relaxing hobby
- Go for a walk, stretch, do yoga, or do other gentle exercises.
How can shingles be prevented?
The best way to prevent shingles is get the shingles vaccine as soon as you are eligible. The vaccine consists of two doses separated by two to six months. It is recommended for everyone over the age of 50 and anyone over the age of 19 who has a weakened immune system. The currently available shingles vaccine, Shingrix, is 97% effective in adults 50-69 years and 91% effective in adults 70 years and older. Even in people with weakened immune systems, the effectiveness is often greater than 70%. Protection remains high for seven years.
Even if you have had shingles in the past, you can still get the vaccine. If you received the chickenpox vaccine, you may have a lower risk of getting shingles, but you are still at risk and should receive the Shingrix vaccine when you are eligible. Your doctor can advise you when you should receive the vaccine based on your health and other risk factors.
Although getting the vaccine reduces the risk of shingles, it is not 100% effective. So keep an eye out for symptoms, especially if you’re part of a risk group. If you have shingles, follow your doctor’s instructions to minimize complications and aid in your recovery.