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Healthy You

Shingles: Know the Signs and Symptoms

Wednesday, June 06, 2018 8:21 AM

Some of us remember getting chickenpox as a kid – it was hard to be told not to scratch when it itched so bad! For some adults, the dread of chickenpox comes back as shingles.

Shingles is a reactivation of the chickenpox virus – varicella-zoster virus – which lives inactive in our tissue where years later it can become shingles, resulting in a painful rash. About 40 percent of people who get shingles feel a burning, shooting pain for months or years after the rash is gone. It’s called postherpetic neuralgia, or PHN. 

About a third of Americans will get shingles in their lifetime. Half of the people who reach age 85 will have had shingles at some point. The vaccine can lower your chances of getting shingles by more than 90 percent. If you do contract the condition, it may lessen the symptoms.

The CDC recommends that healthy adults 50 or older get two doses of the vaccine Shingrix, 2 to 6 months apart, unless they currently have shingles, are pregnant, or a test shows they’ve never had chickenpox.

ShinglesTreatment

Gary Kaufman, MD, FACP, Chair of the Department of Medicine at NorthShore, shares the various signs and symptoms of shingles:

  • Pain, usually burning, numbness or tingling
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Red rash
  • Fluid-filled blisters, often crusting over
  • Itching
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Fatigue

Most adults get better within 1 – 3 weeks and do not develop shingles again, although it is possible to get it more than once. While not everyone develops shingles in their lifetime, some are more susceptible to it than others. Factors that may increase your risk for developing shingles are:

  • Being over the age of 50
  • A weakened immune system from certain diseases, stress or cancer treatment
  • Taking certain medications, such as the prolonged use of steroid
  • Never having the chickenpox or the vaccines for chickenpox or shingles

Shingles is contagious by direct contact to anyone who has not had chickenpox and to those with weakened immune systems. Dr. Kaufman recommends covering shingles, as it is often spread when the wounds are fresh and open. Shingles is often treated with antiviral medications from your primary care physician.

When is the last time you made an annual wellness physical exam with your physician?