Understanding Shingles - A Painful Adult Illness That Starts As A Child
As a child, if you got chickenpox, you may have thought that when it was gone you were done with it. Unfortunately, the same virus that caused your chickenpox can cause a painful condition in adult life called shingles. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that nearly 30 percent of adults will get this disease, with their risk increasing as they get older. Learn about the signs of shingles, what to expect and how they are treated.
The Cause of Shingles
The same virus that causes chickenpox in childhood, varicella-zoster, is responsible for shingles in adults. If you had this childhood illness, you are at a high risk of getting shingles as an adult. Researchers don't know why the virus stays in the body and comes back to haunt you in adult life. Some speculate that a decreased immune system as you age allows the virus to erupt again as shingles.
The Symptoms of Shingles
This is a particularly painful adult disease that can become severe. The most recognizable symptom is a band of blisters that wrap around the side of your chest and abdomen. In some cases, they will appear on one side of your neck or face. A few people with shingles will not display any kind of blisters or rash. Other symptoms include:
- Tingling - Numbness or itching may start in the affected area a few days before the rash occurs.
- Nausea - Flu-like symptoms such as stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea may occur.
- Headache - The virus affects your nervous system, including the major nerve groups in your brain, causing severe headaches.
- Fever - A few people will experience a high fever.
- Vision problems - If the virus attacks the nerves in your eye, you may have light sensitivity, inflammation and an infection of the eye.
- Muscle pain - The muscles in your arms and legs may tingle and become painful as the virus infects the nerves in those muscles.
The best treatment is prevention. Your family practice doctor has a vaccination that can protect you from this disease. The CDC recommends that adults over 60 years old get this vaccination. There is no cure for shingles, which is why vaccination is recommended to prevent its occurrence.
Your doctor will treat the symptoms of shingles while the virus works its way through your body. The treatment reduces the serious complications that can occur from shingles. Typical treatment includes:
- antiviral medications to slow the spread of the virus and reduce the intensity of the symptoms
- anticonvulsants to treat the impact of the virus on your nervous system
- antidepressants to treat mild depression that some people experience when they have shingles
- topical anesthetics such as lidocaine sprays and creams to reduce the skin irritation
As you enter your senior years, and especially if you had chickenpox as a child, consider getting the shingles vaccination. If you see any signs of this disease, contact your doctor, like those at Expresscare Plus, quickly to start treatment. Early treatment of the symptoms can keep them from becoming severe and potentially debilitating.