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What is Shingles?

By: Rickie Porter, PD

Did you know that anyone who has had chickenpox may get shingles later in life?  Shingles occurs when the virus that causes chickenpox starts up again in your body. After you recover from chickenpox, the varicella zoster virus remains dormant in your nerve roots.  In some people, it stays dormant forever. The virus “wakes up” when disease, stress, or aging weakens the immune system.  After the virus becomes active it will cause shingles, but not chickenpox.  About 1 in 3 people will develop shingles in their lifetimes. Fortunately, there are medications for shingles and a vaccine now available.shutterstock_74112067

What are the symptoms of Shingles?

Shingles symptoms usually happen in stages. At first you may have a headache or be sensitive to light. You may also feel like you have the flu but not have a fever.

Later you may feel itching, tingling, or pain in a certain area. That’s where a band, strip, or small area of rash may occur a few days later, and only on one side of the body. The rash turns into clusters of blisters. The blisters fill with fluid and then crust over. It takes 2 to 4 weeks for the blisters to heal. Some people only get a mild rash, and some do not get a rash at all. The shingles rash most often occurs on one side near the waist. The next most common location is on one side of the forehead or around one eye, but shingles blisters can occur anywhere on the body.

When should I call my Doctor?

When my wife, Nancy, developed a rash on her side she thought that she had poison ivy, even though she had never been allergic to it before.  I advised her to see a doctor at the clinic next to our Farmington Collier Drug Store.  Her doctor quickly confirmed what I suspected.  She had shingles.  The doctor immediately wrote Nancy a prescription for an antiviral medication, and a prescription for pain.  Within a few weeks she was fully recovered.

If you suspect shingles you should call your doctor as soon as possible!

As soon as you are diagnosed with shingles your doctor will probably start treatment with antiviral medications. If you begin antiviral medication within the first 3 days of seeing the shingles rash, it will help limit the pain and discomfort caused by shingles, shorten the time you have symptoms, and prevent the spread of the disease. Antiviral medication will also reduce your chances of developing shingles complications.  Your doctor may also prescribe pain medications, and antibiotic ointments to prevent infection.

Is Shingles Preventable?

Anyone who has had chickenpox may get shingles later in life, but we do have a vaccine that may help prevent shingles or make it less painful if you do get it.   The shingles vaccine is known as Shingrix.  It is available, at all our local Collier Drug Stores and recommended for adults ages 50 and older, whether or not they’ve had shingles before.

If you have never had chickenpox, you may avoid getting the virus that causes both chickenpox, and later shingles, by receiving the varicella vaccine. Please drop by any of our Collier Drug Stores at your convenience. Our Pharmacists will be happy to administer the shingles vaccine, and provide additional information about treatment and prevention of shingles.