If you have had chicken pox already, then you have a higher chance of developing
shingles. Chicken pox and shingles both come from the varicella zoster virus (VZV). Unfortunately, VSV stays in the body and does not go away, even after treatment. Once an individual catches this virus, VZV remains sleeping in the body’s nerves until it is woken up by stress or a weakened immune system at a later age in life.
Shingles symptoms are very painful and appear in one spot, usually either on the right or left side of the torso or back. In some rare cases, shingles can form on the face and eye.
Shingles like chicken pox can be prevented by a vaccine, but there is still a small chance that your loved one could get shingles. However, these people would experience milder side effects of the virus.
What Causes Shingles
Developing shingles around the age of 60 is pretty common. According to the CDC, half a million cases of shingles are reported by people aged 60 or older, although shingles can be triggered at an earlier age too. Just like chicken pox comes once, shingles usually occurs once as well. However, there are rare cases of people developing shingles twice.
It is still unclear as to why VZV resurfaces, but many doctors attribute shingles to the fact that as we age, our immune systems begin to weaken. Extreme stress and specific medications are also known to cause the virus to break out.
A common question is, “Is shingles contagious?” Rest assured! You’re not able to catch shingles from your senior loved one. But if someone who has never had chicken pox comes in direct contact with a person who currently has an open blister from shingles, then that person can catch the VZV virus and later develop chicken pox but not shingles.
Stages of Shingles
Shingles generally lasts around three to five weeks. The first few weeks of having the virus are very painful. Early symptoms of shingles include headache, nausea, fever, and chills. A few days later, the body will start to feel a painful itching or tingling sensation. Following this pain, the skin becomes inflamed, forming a red rash that wraps around one side of the body. Blisters filled with puss will begin to form, lasting up to four weeks. The blisters will soon start to die down and harden, transforming into scabs. At this stage, the VZV virus cannot be passed.
Shingles Side Effects Long Term
After an episode of shingles, the symptoms typically fade away, but some people continue to experience the painful symptoms even after the blisters go away.
Of shingles victims who are 50 years old older, 80% have experienced Postherpetic Neuralgia (PHN). Shingles damages the nerves, and if this condition is severe enough and the nerves cannot heal on their own anymore, PHN occurs. PHN complications include sensitivity to touch, numbness, ongoing throbbing, burning, or sharp jabs of pain, and intense itching. Since the complications last from up to several months to multiple years, PHN can negatively affect your loved one’s quality of life, leading to depression.
If your loved one experiences shingles symptoms for more than three months, he may be developing PHN. Contact your loved one’s doctor to see what steps he should take to cope with the complications.
How to Treat Shingles
Most doctors recommend taking the shingles vaccine, Zostavax, to prevent shingles from forming or to shorten an episode of shingles if your loved one is already experiencing symptoms. The CDC suggests that people who are 50 years or older should get the vaccine. However, keep in mind that Zostavax may not be right for those who have weakened immune systems or are taking specific medications. Shingles usually heals on its own after a few weeks. And although there’s no cure for the virus, there are several options to reduce shingles symptoms. If you and your loved one find signs of the virus resurfacing, your loved one’s healthcare provider can prescribe antiviral medicine, such as Zovirax or Valtrex, to help to shorten the period. Also, early treatment of shingles can also help to prevent PHN.
Whether the rash forms on the face or body, pain medicine paired with specific creams like capsaicin cream and wet compresses can help alleviate your loved one’s itchy sensation. In addition, doctors recommend covering your loved one’s fluid-filled blisters during the healing process.
For treating PHN, taking a prescribed painkiller such as oxycodone or anticonvulsants like Lyrica may soothe your loved one’s nerve pain. Opting for a nerve stimulation treatment such as TENS can also be helpful.
Although shingles symptoms are extremely painful, they can be treated. A factor in managing shingles is by maintaining a healthy immune system and handling stress effectively.