Shingles - Everything you need to know about it

Shingles – Everything you need to know about it

Shingles is actually a reactivation of the chickenpox virus. Unfortunately, it is more common than you may think. Chickenpox, which is also known as varicella isn’t just a childhood illness. It can occur at any age. The older you are when you get it the more severe it can be. The problem with this virus is that it can lie dormant in your body. If it awakens later in your life, it can be more severe and it is usually called shingles, also known as herpes zoster. This is why you can only get shingles if you’ve previously had chickenpox.

Most children have developed chickenpox, some children that have the virus dormant in their body never knew they had it as they never had obvious symptoms. This puts practically all adults at risk of developing shingles.

Symptoms

There are a few symptoms of shingles that you should be on the look out for. However, the first symptoms that you may experience if the dormant chickenpox virus has been reactivated as shingles include:

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Itching
  • Shooting or stabbing pains, tenderness or a burning sensation or aching in the body.

If you experience these symptoms, it can be an indication that the virus is being transferred along your sensory nerves that branch out from your spinal cord. Several days after these initial symptoms appear, you will get a rash of small, red lumps on your skin. They often appear in small clusters in a band or belt-like shape. These lumps then build into fluid-filled blisters. The blisters usually burst and crust over, before healing. Shingles blisters can last from 3 to 5 weeks. Often these blisters only develop on one side of the face, neck or body. Some people may also experience mild fevers with the virus.

Is shingles contagious?

The shingles virus can be transferred to someone who touches the fluid or blisters of an affected person. Also, it can be spread if you come into contact with clothing, towels or sheets that have also come into contact with the blisters. When the rash has dried out and the crusts have formed the virus is no longer infectious. When you have the shingles virus you should cover your blisters and stay away from adults and children who haven’t had chickenpox and those who haven’t been vaccinated for chickenpox or shingles. You should also avoid people with compromised immunity, including those undergoing chemotherapy. You can also catch chickenpox from someone who has shingles if you haven’t previously had chickenpox or if you have never received the chickenpox vaccine.

Are you at higher risk of shingles?

The National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance has found that up to 30%of us will have shingles at some point in our life. The virus is most common in people over the age of 50, although it can affect people at any age. If you are aged 85 and over, unfortunately you have a 50% chance of developing the shingles virus. The virus can also sometimes affect children and young adults who previously had chickenpox. It is very rare for you to have shingles if you are under 3 years of age. If you have suffered from illness or take treatment that suppresses your immune system when you are younger you may also be more vulnerable to shingles. The good news is that most people only have shingles once in their lifetime. It can however re- occur in people that have had it.

Shingles is on the rise

Unfortunately, studies show that shingles is on the rise. They believe there may be multiple reasons for this. The first reason they believe is because we are living longer and as we age the risk of shingles can increase due to having a lowered immunity. Secondly autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are also increasing. This in turn raises the risk. Also, some medications used to treat them, like steroids can put you at a higher risk. If you are aged 50 or over, developing COVID-19 may also increase your risk of shingles.

Treatments for shingles

If you develop symptoms you should see your doctor as soon as possible. Your recovery from shingles may be faster if you receive treatment early, also your chances of complications is reduced.

You may be prescribed antiviral medication. This will help to reduce pain and shorten the duration of intensity. Particularly if you start taking them within the first 72 hours of your symptoms appearing.

Complications

Sometimes a bacterial infection of shingles blisters may occur. This will require antibiotic treatment. Shingles can trigger other complications, such as hearing problems, pneumonia or vision impairment, though this is rare. If you develop red, sore eyes or tiny eye ulcers see your doctor immediately. As this can cause temporary or permanent blindness.

Some people over 50 who develop shingles go on to develop Post Herpetic Neuralgia or PHN, a long-term nerve pain that results in intense burning or tingling sensations. This can persist for months or sometimes years. If you have diabetes or your immune system is compromised, you have a higher risk of PHN. Treatments can include painkillers, lidocaine patches to anesthetise painful skin symptoms, tricyclic antidepressants or anti-seizure medication.

Prevention medical and natural

To help prevent shingles you can get vaccinated. This is free after the age of 70. However, before being vaccinated, talk to your GP about Shingrix. This is a non-live vaccine preferred for those over 50 and those over 18 who are immunocompromised or have health issues that increase risk of shingles and long shingles complications such as PHN.

Natural prevention of course is to look after your health and immunity. Make sure you talk to your naturopath and take the right multivitamin for you because they are all different. Also, the right supplements and that you have the right diet to lower your inflammation. Exercise and enough sleep are also important. If you look after your health in general you will be less susceptible to illness of any kind. This needs the assistance of a trained professional to fill in the gaps of where your body could be ailing in some way and advise what to do to make you stronger.

Jenetta Haim

Jenetta Haim

Jenetta Haim runs Stressfree Management at 36 Gipps Road, Greystanes, and specialises in assisting your health and lifestyle in all areas by developing programs on either a corporate or personal level to suit your needs. Jenetta has just published a book called Stress-Free Health Management, A Natural Solution for Your Health available from your favourite bookstore or online. For more information and to get in touch, visit her website at Stressfree Management.

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