Considering that 1 in 3 Americans develops shingles at least once during their lifetime, it’s important to understand this condition and what you can do to prevent shingles.
The shingles vaccine is used only as a prevention strategy. It’s not intended to treat people who currently have the disease.
Talk to your doctor about what option is right for you.
The new shingles vaccine is wonderful news for anyone who is concerned about becoming infected. Experts believe that Shingrix offers significantly better protection than the older vaccine Zostavax.
[box] What is shingles? What does shingles look like?
The word shingles come from the Latin word cingulum, which means belt.
Shingles is a disease characterized by a painful, blistering skin rash that affects one side of the body, typically the face or torso.
This condition may also be referred to as herpes zoster, zoster, or zona.[/box]
Shingles is brought on by the chickenpox virus. If you’ve had chickenpox, that virus has been lying dormant in your body, and it can trigger shingles at any time if it becomes reactivated. While most patients recover from shingles in about 4 weeks or less, others have complications that last for the rest of their lives.
Shingles is serious, but you can dramatically lower your risk if you know what to do. Read on to educate yourself and protect your health.
Although most people who develop shingles will only have a single episode, there are others who do have recurrent cases of shingles.
Shingles is most common in older people and those with weakened immune systems.
The most common side effects of either shingles vaccine are redness, pain, tenderness, swelling and itching at the injection point, and headaches.
- Know your risks. Shingles can strike anyone who has had chickenpox or been vaccinated. Older adults are at especially high risk, as well as adults with suppressed immune systems.
- Avoid contaminating others. The virus spreads easily when someone goes out in public with open blisters. While you can’t catch shingles, you could be infected with chickenpox if you haven’t had it before.
- Get vaccinated. Shingrix is believed to be more than 90% effective at preventing shingles and its complications for all age groups. You’ll need two doses, spaced about 2 to 6 months apart. The most common side effects are soreness, headaches, and swelling that last up to a few days.
- Talk to your doctor. Your physician can answer any questions and advise you on whether the Shingrix vaccine is appropriate for you. They may recommend getting the new vaccine even if you received the old version in the past.
What are the Risk Factors for Shingles?
Shingles only occur in people who have previously been exposed to the varicella zoster virus.
Risk factors for developing of shingles include the following:
Age: Shingles rarely occurs in children, it is much more common in older adults, with the risk increasing with age. Approximately 50% of all cases of shingles occur in adults 60 years of age or older.
Weak immune system: Individuals with weakened immune systems have a higher probability of developing shingles and other diseases such as cancer and HIV/AIDS. Also certain medical procedures, and taking certain medications can impair one’s immune system.
Patients taking steroids and immunosuppressive medications, people with certain auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis, are at an increased risk for developing shingles.
Psychological and emotional stress are also believed to contribute to the development of shingles, continual stress has detrimental effects on your immune system and your overall health.
Learn About Shingle Treatments And Causes Video
What is the Contagious Period for Shingles?
The shingle virus can be transmitted from person to person by direct contact with fluid from the active, blistering, rash. One should avoid contact with people who have active shingles, especially pregnant women who have never had chickenpox, and people who have compromised immune systems. It cannot be transmitted by coughing or sneezing, and it is not contagious before the blisters appear.
After the shingles rash has dried up and started crusting, it is not generally considered to be contagious. But play it safe anyhow.
Managing Shingles Symptoms:
- Spot the early signs. Shingles are relatively easy to detect because of its distinctive symptoms. You’ll usually have a blistering rash on one side of your body or face.
- Consider antivirals. Taking antiviral medication within the first 2 to 3 days can help you to recover from shingles faster and avoid more serious complications and discomfort. The three main drugs currently used are famciclovir, valacyclovir, and acyclovir.
- Treat neuralgia. Nerve pain is the most troubling symptom of shingles, especially for patients over 60. This postherpetic neuralgia can vary in intensity and last for months or even becoming permanent.
- Watch for other complications. Other complications are rare but important to watch out for. See your doctor immediately if you notice shingles near your eyes, ears, or anywhere on your nose or higher. Quick action may protect your eyesight and hearing.
- Reduce discomfort. In addition to prescriptions and over-the-counter pain medication, there are home remedies that may provide some relief. Try oatmeal baths, cold compresses, and calamine lotion.
- Resist scratching. It’s tempting to rub the infected area, but that will only increase your discomfort. Warm baths, moisturizers, and loose clothing made of natural fibers are a safer way to soothe your skin. You may also benefit from some distraction like calling a friend or watching a movie.
- Eat and rest. Keep your immune system strong so you can fight off infection. Eat a balanced diet rich in whole foods and aim for at least 8 hours of sleep each night.
- Manage stress. It’s difficult to feel relaxed when you’re dealing with pain, itching, and a body rash. Try to relieve stress with yoga or listening to soft instrumental music.
- Over-the-counter antihistamine medication such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) may help alleviate the localized itching.
Shingles and its complications can disrupt your life, but you can protect your health by getting vaccinated or getting prompt treatment if you’re infected. Talk with your doctor about the most appropriate options for your individual care.
Keep in mind that shingles typically resolves itself within 1 to 4 weeks, and most healthy individuals make a full recovery.