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  • Writer's pictureWesley Prent

If you are over 50, You May Be at risk of getting shingles!

Updated: Jun 6

What is Shingles? Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a viral infection caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After recovering from chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in nerve tissue and can reactivate years later as shingles, typically causing a painful rash.


How Do You Get Shingles?

To develop shingles, you must have had chickenpox earlier in life. The varicella-zoster virus stays in your body, lying dormant in your nerve cells. For reasons not entirely clear, the virus can reactivate, especially when the immune system is weakened by age, stress, or medical conditions. While shingles itself isn't contagious, the virus can spread to someone who has never had chickenpox or been vaccinated, causing them to develop chickenpox, not shingles.

What Does Shingles Feel Like?

Initial Symptoms:

  • Pain and Sensitivity: Before the rash appears, you might experience pain, burning, tingling, or extreme sensitivity in a localized area of your body. This is often felt on one side of the torso or face.

  • General Discomfort: You might also feel generally unwell, with symptoms such as headache, fever, fatigue, and sensitivity to light.

Rash Development:

  • Red Rash: A red rash develops a few days after the initial pain, typically appearing on one side of the body in a stripe or band-like pattern.

  • Blisters: The rash progresses to fluid-filled blisters, similar to chickenpox, which can be itchy and very painful.

Acute Phase:

  • Severe Pain: The pain associated with shingles can be intense, described as sharp, burning, or shooting.

  • Itching and Tingling: Along with pain, the affected area may be extremely itchy or tingly.

  • Skin Sensitivity: The skin in the affected area can be highly sensitive to touch, making even light contact painful.

Healing Phase:

  • Crusting Over: The blisters eventually burst, dry out, and form scabs. This process can take several weeks.

  • Diminishing Pain: Pain may gradually decrease as the rash heals, but for some people, the pain persists.

Complications:

  • Postherpetic Neuralgia (PHN): In some cases, the pain continues long after the rash has healed, known as postherpetic neuralgia. This condition can last for months or even years and involves persistent pain in the area where the rash occurred.

  • Scarring: The rash can leave scars once it has healed.

  • Other Symptoms: Severe cases can lead to complications like vision loss (if the eyes are affected), neurological problems, or skin infections.

Psychological Impact:

  • Emotional Distress: The intense pain and prolonged discomfort can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression.

Should You Worry About Getting Shingles?

Your risk of getting shingles increases with age, particularly after 50, and if you have a weakened immune system due to health conditions or treatments. If you've had chickenpox, the virus is already in your body and could reactivate as shingles.

Steps to Prevent Shingles

  1. Vaccination:

  • Shingrix: Recommended for adults aged 50 and older, Shingrix is administered in two doses and is over 90% effective.

  • Zostavax: An alternative for those 60 and older, given as a single injection, though it is less commonly used now.

  1. Maintain a Healthy Immune System:

  • Diet and Nutrition: Eat a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals.

  • Exercise: Engage in regular physical activity.

  • Sleep: Ensure you get adequate sleep.

  • Stress Management: Practice stress-reducing techniques like meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises.

  1. Avoid Contact with Chickenpox: If you haven't had chickenpox or been vaccinated, avoid close contact with individuals who have active chickenpox or shingles.

Statistics of Getting Shingles

  • General Incidence: About 1 in 3 people in the United States will develop shingles in their lifetime.

  • Age Factor: The risk increases significantly with age:

  • For people aged 60 and older, the rate is about 10 per 1,000 person-years.

  • For those aged 50-59, it's about 5 per 1,000 person-years.

  • Overall Risk: The lifetime risk of developing shingles is approximately 30%.


Conclusion

Shingles can be a painful and debilitating condition, especially for older adults and those with weakened immune systems. Understanding the symptoms and taking preventive measures, especially vaccination, can significantly reduce your risk. If you are over 50 or have other risk factors, talk to your healthcare provider about the shingles vaccine and other steps you can take to protect yourself.



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