A painful disease, shingles can cause not only discomfort but serious consequences—from blindness to nerve pain.
And it’s surprisingly common.
According to the CDC, one in three adults will develop shingles in their lifetime and one million people in the United States will be diagnosed with shingles each year.
While a shingles vaccine is available for those 50 and older, in a study done by pharmaceutical maker GSK, just 7% of people believe they are at a high risk of developing shingles.
Just 7% of people believe they are at a high risk of developing shingles.
Here’s what you need to know about this surprisingly common disease.
What is shingles?
Shingles is an infection caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox. More than 90% of adults over the age of 50 carry the virus that causes shingles because they had chickenpox as a child. The virus lives dormant in their bodies.
More than 90% of adults over the age of 50 carry the virus that causes shingles.
In some cases, the virus reactivates and travels along the nerves to the skin, producing the tell-tale rash and pain of shingles. No one knows what triggers the virus to reactivate or why it reactivates in some people and not in others.
What are the symptoms of shingles?
Shingles usually begins with a tingling or burning sensation on the skin that occurs for no apparent reason. Between one and five days later, a rash appears on the skin. After a few days, the rash will turn into fluid-filled blisters. Within a week to 10 days, the blisters should dry up and scab over. The scabs will eventually fall off, and the skin returns to normal.
In some cases, people can develop postherpetic neuralgia, or PHN, where even though the rash has disappeared, the pain from shingles lingers. The older you are when you have shingles, the more likely you are to develop PHN. The condition can vary from mild to debilitating, and more severe pain can lead to depression or interfere with daily activities. It’s important to contact your doctor if you are experiencing PHN.
Shingles can last anywhere from two to six weeks, and while most people only contract shingles once, you can have it more than once in a lifetime.
What treatments are available for shingles?
The best way to treat shingles is to avoid getting it in the first place. Shingles vaccines are widely available for people 50 and older. The vaccine requires two shots, with the second coming two to six months after the first.
You do not need to get a shingles shot every year. Getting two shots the required distance apart will provide effective coverage.
If you do get shingles, your doctor will most likely treat it with prescription antiviral medications. Because shingles can be painful, your doctor may also prescribe topical or oral pain medications. In some cases, they may recommend a steroid shot to reduce the inflammation of the rash.
Cool compresses or a cool bath can also help relieve some of the itching and pain.
What are the risk factors for getting shingles?
If you had chicken pox in your life, you’re at risk of getting shingles, but a few factors increase your risk:
· You are over 50.
· You have or have had a disease that compromises your immune system like HIV or cancer.
· You are currently undergoing cancer treatment.
· You take immunosuppressant medications or steroids.
What can I do to prevent shingles outbreaks and transmission?
The best thing you can do to prevent shingles is to get vaccinated when you’re eligible.
However, if you do have a shingles outbreak, keep in mind the virus is contagious to anyone who hasn’t already had chickenpox or been vaccinated against it. Until your blisters have scabbed over, avoid contact with anyone who isn’t immune to the virus.
Am I ever too old to get the shingles vaccine?
The shingles vaccine is recommended for anyone over the age of 50. However, it’s always important to check with your doctor to make sure the vaccine is right for your specific situation.
Shingles is more common than most people think, which is why it’s important to know all the facts. Because no cure exists, the best way to deal with shingles is to be vaccinated against it.