For many adults, getting chickenpox as a child was a big deal. People who had chickenpox as kids are more likely to get shingles, which can be very painful. This is because one in three adults who had chickenpox as a child will get shingles later in life when they least expect it.
Varicella-zoster is the same virus that causes chickenpox. It can happen at any time after you get chickenpox, but it’s most likely to happen after you’re 50.
Who are at risk?
- Individuals above 50 years of age.
- People suffering from certain diseases that weaken their immune systems, like HIV/AIDS and cancer.
- Patients undergoing radiation or chemotherapy.
- People with long-term exposure to immunosuppressive drugs like steroids.
- People with high-stress levels.
The two illnesses are caused by the same virus, but the shingles rash is different from the chickenpox epidemic that has spread across the country. There are clusters of painful, red bumps on the skin that blister and then scab over. Several people report that they have pain or tingling on their skin before they have the shingles rash show up on their skin. Symptoms like headache, fever and light sensitivity may happen in some patients in the days before the rash shows up.
Treatment for shingles includes controlling pain and giving antiviral medications to people who have a rash for three days after it starts. Eventually, your body will get rid of the rash, but it is possible to get an infection from the bacteria that breaks down the skin because of the rash.
In most cases of shingles, ir will start to crust over and heal in one to two weeks. The virus can spread when the rash is in the blister phase, so it’s important to cover the rash as to not spread it to others. Because most people with normal immune systems don’t get sick when the blisters are dry and crust over, the rash is not usually contagious after that.
Following shingles, people often get postherpetic neuralgia. There is pain even after all of the blisters have gone away. For many people, this pain lasts a long time. The rash can cause pain in the area where it is. It can cause burning, stabbing, throbbing, and/or shooting pain. Pain from postherpetic neuralgia can last for weeks, months, or even years.
A vaccine for shingles exists, and it works well for the first four years after it is given. If you’re over 50, you should take it. It should be taken twice a year, two to six months apart. Most pharmacies have the shingles vaccine for very little or no cost.