Shingles is one of those medical conditions that – with a mere mention – will cause people to wince in sympathy. And there’s good reason: it’s horribly painful and even debilitating for some. It’s brought on by the varicella zoster virus, the same nasty microscopic visitor that’s kept countless children home from school with chickenpox.
Adults who had chickenpox as children are susceptible to a painful recurrence of the virus in the form of shingles. After manifesting as chickenpox during childhood, the virus stays dormant in your nerve roots. For most people, it never reappears. But for some adults, the virus reawakens as a rash in a band or patch of skin anywhere on the body.
Who’s at Risk for Shingles
Why do some get shingles and others don’t? The illness most often strikes people older than 50 and usually those with a weak immune system. Your system can be compromised by a number of issues, including:
- Serious illness or disease
- Radiation therapy
- Medicines, including those to treat cancer
- Recent surgery
Patients with shingles first report a headache or being sensitive to light. Some say they feel like they’re getting the flu. Their skin feels itchy or begins to tingle. Over a period of days or weeks, a visible, red patch forms over a portion of their body. A few days later, the rash turns into painful fluid-filled blisters that cause extreme discomfort.
If you’re enough to suffer from shingles, don’t delay seeking medical attention. The condition can spread to other parts of the body and complications can occur. Doctors can prescribe antiviral medications that reduce pain during a shingles outbreak and topical antibiotics to heal infected blisters.
A Preventive Tool: Shingles Vaccine
Shingles can’t be prevented, but there now is a vaccine available to reduce the chance the virus will reawaken. And if you’ve had shingles, the vaccine has been shown to almost always prevent another attack.
The shingles vaccine consists of a weak chickenpox virus that protects the body from a reoccurrence of the varicella zoster virus. And while the vaccine has been approved for patients age 50 and older, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the vaccination for everyone 60 and older.
Talk with your Providence primary care provider if you have questions about shingles and to find out of you’re a candidate for the shingles vaccine.