By Joshua Millstein, D.O.
If you’ve ever had shingles, you know the condition can be quite painful. It also can recur. Shingles appears as a rash on your face or body, typically just on one side.
If you had chicken pox earlier in life, you’re at risk of developing shingles down the road, thanks to the varicella-zoster virus. It lies inactive in nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain after you’ve had chicken pox and can reactivate years later to cause shingles. The outbreak is most common in those 60 and older. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports there are an estimated 1 million cases annually in the United States.
Before the rash develops, you may feel tingling, pain and itching on the site where the rash will appear. Later, the rash forms blisters that scab over. If that’s not bad enough, you also may experience headaches, fever and chills and stomach distress.
If you have a compromised immune system, you’re at risk of complications that can include more widespread rashes and secondary infections. Depending on the part of the body affected, you could even experience hearing or vision loss.
It’s wise to see your doctor, who can prescribe antiviral medications that may reduce the severity of the outbreak and hasten healing and reduce your risk of complications.
For some individuals, shingles pain can continue long after the blisters have cleared. Known as postherpetic neuralgia, this occurs when damaged nerve fibers send exaggerated messages of pain from your skin to your brain.
If you’d like to avoid shingles, consider getting a shingles shot at your doctors’ office. Individuals age 60 and older should get the vaccine even if they don’t remember having had chicken pox. While the vaccine is not a guarantee against developing shingles, clinical trials have shown that it may reduce your risk of shingles by more than 50 percent.
If you have severe allergies or a weakened immune system, please consult with your health care provider to ensure that the vaccine is safe for you.
Joshua Millstein, DO, is a physician at North Phoenix Medical Clinic, 9100 N. 2nd St., Suite 12, part of the John C. Lincoln Physician Network. Visit www.JCL.com/practices. The information in “To Your Health” is provided by John C. Lincoln Health Network as general information only. For medical advice, please consult your physician.