Shingles, also called herpes zoster, is a painful reactivation of the chickenpox virus within the body and it frequently affects seniors. According to the CDC, 1 out of every 4 people will have shingles in their lifetime, and 2 out of every 3 cases are patients over the age of 50. Shingles can develop more than once in a person’s lifetime and can result in extreme discomfort and in severe cases even infection and hospitalization. Although the reasons are unclear, shingles cases are on the rise in the United States. In addition to age, shingles appears to affect people with weakened immune systems, those who are experiencing high levels of stress and those who are immunocompromised. Shingles itself is not contagious, but the underlying chickenpox virus is and can be spread to anyone who has never had chickenpox or who has never received the chickenpox vaccine. Learn more about shingles and how it may be prevented.
Signs and Symptoms
Shingles causes an extremely painful blistering rash that frequently appears on the torso, or in some cases, on one side of the face or neck. Often the rash is so painful that the patient cannot tolerate covering it with clothing or being touched in the rash area. If the rash becomes irritated due to clothing friction or scratching and the blisters become infected, this can lead to a hospital stay. This painful rash can last for 3 months or more, but often there is a lingering burning pain (referred to as postherpetic neuralgia, or PHN), after the rash and blisters are gone. With PHN, simple daily activities like dressing or bathing, become extremely difficult and over time this can lead to anxiety, weight loss, sleeplessness and sometimes depression.
In addition to the rash and blisters, the shingles virus can cause the following symptoms:
- A general feeling of discomfort
- Chills, achiness or fatigue
- Upset stomach or headache
- Extreme sensitivity to touch
- Numbness, tingling or burning of the skin
People who are over the age of 50 or those who have trouble fighting infections are at a higher risk of developing shingles. Fortunately, there are two vaccines available to help prevent or significantly lessen the severity of shingles. The CDC recommends 2 doses of the Shingrix vaccine (spaced 2-6 months apart) for all healthy adults who are at least 50 years old, and recommends the slightly less protective Zostavax vaccine for anyone who is allergic to any of the ingredients in Shingrix. All healthy adults over the age of 50, even those who have never had the chickenpox or those who have already had shingles, should be vaccinated.
An additional tactic to reduce the odds of developing shingles is to boost your immune system by following these tips:
- Eat healthy, well-balanced meals, and drink plenty of water
- Follow good sleep hygiene guidelines
- Avoid alcohol and nicotine
- Aim for at least 30 minutes of mild to moderate daily physical activity
- Make every effort to keep stress levels low
- Talk to your doctor about supplements that may help build immunity
Healthcare and Comfort Guidelines
If you experience any of the signs or symptoms listed above, it’s important to contact your doctor right away. If you do develop Shingles, here are some suggestions that may ease the discomfort:
- Ask your doctor about steroids or ointments that can be applied to the affected areas
- Try oatmeal baths to help soothe the burning sensation
- Use cool compresses on affected areas to dry the blisters and decrease swelling
- Keep the rash covered if possible, and wash your hands often
- Avoid scratching the rash as this may lead to infection
- Distract yourself with hobbies, TV, movies or phone calls with friends
Lighthouse Senior Living has an in-house skilled supportive care team and highly credentialed and caring medical staff. The physical and emotional wellbeing of our residents is our number one priority. Contact us today to schedule a virtual tour and learn why we are the premier option for assisted living in both Ellicott City and Essex-Middle River, Maryland.