One in three people in the US will develop shingles in their lifetime. But what is shingles, who is at risk of getting it and can it be prevented?
Here’s what you need to know about this rash and how to reduce your symptoms when you get it.
What is shingles?
Shingles is a painful, itchy rash. Although sometimes mild, most people with shingles experience severe pain that lasts for two to four weeks. In some cases, shingles causes complications that can last for months or years.
What are the symptoms of shingles?
The early signs of shingles such as pain, itching or tingling in one part of the body, usually in the chest, abdomen or back. You may feel a shooting or burning pain, or the area may feel numb or tingly. Sometimes people feel tired and achy and develop a fever, chills, headache or stomach upset that can feel like the flu. After a few days, the skin has a swollen rash, which is very painful.
Acne usually appears around the waist but sometimes on other parts of the body, including the arms, head or face. You can get shingles inside your body without a visible rash. If the rash appears on the face, it can damage the eyes. In some cases, the scars can cause skin problems, hearing problems, pneumonia and swelling of the brain. Some people get shingles have chronic nerve pain it is called postherpetic neuralgia, which prevents daily activities for many years. Some people even die from shingles. But for most people, scabies blisters go away in a week or so, and they heal in two to four weeks.
Who can get shingles?
Varicella virus causes chicken pox and shingles. Even after you recover from chicken pox, the virus can still live in your body’s bloodstream. Most of the time, the virus is silent – that is, nothing, but it does not cause any problems. However, the virus can recur and cause worse symptoms than the first time.
If you have chicken pox, you can get shingles. Almost all people born before 1980 have had chicken pox, even if they don’t remember getting sick. If you have the chicken pox vaccine, you can get shingles, but your risk is very low than if you have chickens.
As you get older, your risk of developing shingles increases, but teenagers can also develop the condition. If you have a weakened immune system due to cancer, cancer treatment, immunosuppressive drugs or HIV, you are at higher risk of shingles and its complications. Stress, excessive sun exposure and steroid medications can also cause the varicella virus to reactivate and cause shingles.
You cannot get shingles from someone who has the rash. However, if you have never had chicken pox or have not received the chicken pox vaccine, you can get chicken pox from someone who has shingles. Pregnant women, infants and people with weakened immune systems should avoid contact with anyone who has the rash, especially if they have not had chicken pox or the chicken pox vaccine.
To avoid spreading the varicella virus, people with shingles should:
- Save the lumps
- Avoid touching the rash
- Wash your hands frequently
What treatments are available for shingles?
To help you recover quickly and fully, see your doctor if you think you might have a rash, within three days of getting sick. Taking an antiviral medication (such as acyclovir or valacyclovir) can help improve your symptoms more quickly. Pain relievers – such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen – can help keep you comfortable while you recover.
These self-care measures can also help reduce pain and discomfort from shingles:
- Wear loose clothing
- Apply a cool, damp cloth to the rash
- Wash with colloidal oatmeal or soften the skin with calamine lotion
- Avoid stress
- Get enough rest
- Eat healthy foods
- Distract yourself with television, music or entertainment
- Walk, stretch, do yoga or exercise
How can you prevent shingles?
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 anyone over the age of 50 and for anyone aged 19 or over with a weakened immune system. The current shingles vaccine – Shingrix – is 97% effective in adults aged 50 to 69 and 91% effective in adults aged 70. Even in people with weakened immune systems, the effectiveness is more than 70% The protection lasts for seven years.
Even if you have had shingles in the past, you can still get the vaccine. If you have had the chicken pox vaccine, you may have a lower risk of getting shingles, but you are still at risk and should get the Shingrix vaccine when you are due. Your doctor can advise you on when you should receive the vaccine based on your health and other risks.
Although getting the vaccine reduces the risk of shingles, it is not 100% effective. So, be aware of the symptoms, especially if you are in a vulnerable group. If you have shingles, follow your doctor’s advice to reduce complications and help you heal.