Many of us had chicken pox when we were young. We may remember our parents letting us soak in a bathtub or putting calamine lotion on our skin to help relieve the itching. It was a childhood illness that might have kept you out of school for a week, but then it went away and you carried on. Today, though, having had chickenpox means that we, as adults, are at a higher risk for developing shingles. In fact, the CDC notes that one out of every three Americans will be stricken.
Are you at risk?
If you’ve had chickenpox, then your risk is much higher. If you’re over age 50, you could be at higher risk. More than 20% of the individuals who have had chickenpox will suffer an outbreak of shingles during their lifetime. (It’s estimated that 500,000 people a year develop shingles.)
Even if you have had chickenpox, in many individuals the shingles virus is held at bay through our own immune system. If you have a compromised immune system you may be at a higher risk for developing shingles.
What is shingles?
This is an extremely painful, and common, skin disease that is considered a “reactivation” of childhood chickenpox. The disease is common to individuals with compromised skin and is typically found in seniors.
The way shingles develops is that you will notice severe pain and sensitivity in a location of your body. It will then turn into a rash that itches, followed by the skin blistering. In some cases the rash may clear up with medication but it could take weeks or even months. Sufferers have noted it as causing extreme pain and discomfort and in some cases, they suffer nerve damage because of the lasting pain. This pain can linger even after the initial inflammation has diminished.
The risks of shingles are not limited to the rash and the pain. It’s been shown that those who develop shingles also run a higher risk of suffering a stroke during the first six months after having shingles. Seniors who develop shingles around the face can also suffer hearing loss and diminished vision or even temporary paralysis of the face and neck.
Are there ways to prevent shingles?
There is an FDA approved vaccine available for individuals age 60 and above that might prevent the shingles.
If you’re a caregiver you may need to be cognizant of any skin issues or pain without rash or other signs that your aging loved ones mention as it could be the beginning stages of shingles.