If you’ve had chickenpox, you’re at risk for developing shingles. In fact, one in three people in the United States will develop shingles at some point in their life.
The varicella zoster virus causes both shingles and chickenpox.
• Chickenpox is more common in children, although it may occur in adults.
• Shingles is caused by the same virus but occurs almost exclusively in adults. Shingles has a different rash and develops in a different manner.
After you recover from chickenpox, the virus stays in your body. Years later, it can become active again and cause shingles. Shingles appears as a painful rash on one side of your face or elsewhere on your body. It involves an underlying nerve, which is why it can be so painful. Initially, you feel pain without the rash, but within a day or so, the rash will develop. It may be a stripe that wraps around the left or right side of your body or covers one side of your face. Once the rash appears, it blisters. The blisters scab over within about seven to ten days. It can take two to four weeks for the rash to go away. Other signs of shingles include fever, headache, chills or upset stomach.
Some people have a higher risk of getting shingles. Your risk increases as you age or if you have a weakened immune system due to a medical condition or medicine that suppresses it.
Antiviral medicines reduce the amount of time your symptoms last and decrease your risk of developing persistent pain. These medications work best when you start them as soon as the rash appears. If one of your eyes is affected, you need to see an eye specialist, or ophthalmologist, because of the risk of blindness. Pain medicine can help reduce the discomfort. You can also try soothing measures, such as wet compresses, calamine lotion and baths with colloidal oatmeal, to help control the itching. If you think you have shingles, contact your primary care physician right away.
There are two shingles vaccines – Shingrix, the new vaccine, and Zostavax. Studies have shown that Shingrix is more effective. Shingrix is approved for adults ages 50 and older with a healthy immune system. It’s given in two doses two to six months apart. Ask your primary care physician if this is right for you. Check with your insurance carrier to see if the cost is covered.
It is NOT too late to get the influenza vaccine. There are reports that this year’s vaccine is very effective with the type of flu going around. This flu is very debilitating, especially for the young and the older populations. Protect yourself—get vaccinated today!!
Here’s to a healthy winter,
Mary Ann Martin, RN, BAS, FCN