Many of my patients are over age 50 and consequently may have more skin related conditions than people who are younger. One such condition which appears to be more prevalent in elderly people is Shingles, a viral disease which causes a painful rash. It’s estimated that half the people who live to age 85 will experience shingles at some time in their lives.
Age isn’t the only factor influencing the onset of shingles; people with weakened immune systems are also at risk. Cancer, prolonged use of steroids, HIV/Aids, and drugs designed to prevent rejection of transplanted organs are a couple of ways that your immune system might be lowered. Although shingles isn’t a life-threatening illness, it can cause a lot of pain and distress. I encourage my patients to get knowledgeable about the signs and symptoms of shingles because early treatment can help shorten the disease and decrease the possibility of complications.
Usually shingles affects only a tiny part of your body and most often appears as a group of blisters which wraps around the center of your spine to your chest. It can occasionally happen around one eye on one side of the face or neck. The first symptom is pain, which sometimes is so extreme it can be confused for a different issue affecting your lungs, heart, or kidneys. Other indications include burning, numbness or tingling followed by a red rash. Eventually you develop blisters that fill with fluid, break open and crust over. When the blisters start to cure they can cause itching.
What Do Chickenpox Have to Do with Shingles? Most individuals don’t understand that the varicella-zoster virus; the exact same virus that causes chickenpox is liable for shingles. If you have had chickenpox as a child the virus is still there, sleeping in the nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain. Maybe it does not appear until years later when it reactivates as shingles. Nobody really understands why the virus wakes up but it’s generally linked to aging, stress, or a weakened immune system. When it becomes active again, it may only cause shingles, not chicken pox. The varicella-zoster virus is part of the identical group of herpes viruses that cause cold sores and genital herpes.
Despite the fact that varicella-zoster is considered a part of the group, it’s not to be confused with the virus responsible for cold sores or genital herpes, a sexually transmitted disease. If you have not had the chickenpox virus or vaccine, then you’re in danger of contracting shingles from somebody who has the virus. This transmittance usually occurs through direct contact with open sores of the shingles rash. Once infected, the individual will develop chickenpox not shingles. It’s not infectious however, to anyone who has had the virus at some point in their life.
It’s important to remember that chickenpox can be quite harmful to certain groups of individuals who may be more vulnerable than others like someone having a weak immune system, teenagers, and pregnant women. You’re still contagious until your shingles blisters scab over so make certain to avoid physical contact with anybody, particularly those mentioned here. Most of the time shingles will go away on its own but you might need treatment to handle your pain. There’s a medicine that’s often prescribed which fights the virus known as antiviral. This drug helps reduce complications and pain in addition to shorten the length of the virus. When you start to feel burning or pain, and before blisters appear, you should begin taking drugs within a 24 hour period.
The medicine is usually taken orally, in pill form, and in larger doses than prescribed for herpes simplex. Depending upon the seriousness of your situation, your physician may prescribe powerful anti-inflammatory medicines like prednisone to reduce swelling. Other medications include antihistamines, over the counter pain medication, and topical creams.
What to do?
- Apply cool wet compresses to decrease pain.
- Take soothing baths like colloidal oatmeal or starch baths to relieve itching.
- Apply lotions such as calamine.
- Rest in bed until your fever goes down.
- Keep skin clean and don’t reuse contaminated items.
- Items which are non-disposable ought to be disinfected and/or washed in boiling water before reusing.
- Cover the rash with a dressing table or clothes to lower the chance of spreading the disease to others.
- Avoid contact with others while lesions are oozing to avoid disease from spreading especially to anybody in the high risk category.