While some remember their time having chickenpox as being itchy and generally uncomfortable, for many adults, it is the precursor to a more serious illness.
What are Shingles?
Shingles is a viral disease that can affect people of any age, though is most common in those over the age of 50. Caused by the same virus as chickenpox, it can be reactivated years or decades after the first infection, with the reason for this not yet known.
Causes and Symptoms
Caused by the varicella-zoster virus, shingles will typically occur later in life, affecting anyone who has previously been diagnosed with chickenpox. Usually, sufferers report burning pain and itching to one side of their body, with a rash (usually with blisters) appearing on the torso, back, or face. While starting in one area, the rash spreads, and can soon be accompanied by other symptoms including a fever, chills, headache, or an upset stomach. Please note, not everyone experiences the same symptoms, so it is best to be examined by a qualified medical person if you suspect you may have the virus.
Risks Factors for Seniors
While shingles can affect anyone who has been diagnosed with chicken pox, older people are more at risk of serious side effects. A possible reason for this is a decline in immune function. While age-related decline is a possibility, those with chronic health conditions (such as diabetes, cancer, and autoimmune disorders), or who are on medication that weaken the immune system, should be aware of the risks. If you are on medications such as corticosteroids, chemotherapy drugs, or immunosuppressants, talk to your doctor about ways to further protect yourself.
For some, shingles may not be much more uncomfortable than their earlier case of chicken pox, however, it does come with an increased risk of more severe symptoms.
The most common long-term effect is postherpetic neuralgia. This is a chronic pain that continues for more than three months after the rash has already healed. As with any lingering pain, this can result in depression, lack of physical movement, and even social isolation.
Vision loss is also a severe symptom of shingles if the rash occurs close to the eyes.
Additional long-term effects may not, but could also include, secondary bacterial infection, neurological problems, or even an increased risk for recurrent shingles infections.
Diagnosis and Treatment
If you suspect you may have shingles, it is important to visit your doctor as soon as possible. They will conduct a physical examination, and may also perform additional tests, such as a viral culture or a blood test.
Treatment for shingles is similar to that of the lesser chicken pox. These include antiviral medications to reduce the severity of the symptoms, pain medications, topical creams and ointments, and the all-important rest and self-care.
Coping with Shingles
After diagnosis, your doctor may supply you with medication and coping strategies for dealing with your infection. These can include pain management medications or techniques, and even ideas for how to continue in your daily activities despite infection. The most important thing to remember is that your body is working hard to combat a virus, so you should make sure to get proper rest and let your body heal, even after the rash has cleared.
To reduce your chances of developing shingles or serious symptoms, doctors recommend getting the shingles vaccine as a preventative. Consult with your doctor to see if this is an option for you.
Shingles is, unfortunately, a virus that continues to cause discomfort, pain, and suffering for many. We hope you have found this article to be informative. Shingles is a serious condition and is one that can escalate quickly. Please talk to your doctor if you are concerned or wish to explore preventative options, such as a vaccine.
Australian Over 50s Living & Lifestyle Guide