How to Prevent, Spot, and Treat Shingles
As children, we probably all experienced the chicken pox. It’s almost a rite of passage for toddlers and young children to go through one bout of the itchy, feverish rash. For most kids, a single instance of chicken pox is all it takes for the body to fight it off permanently. But when we reach the ages of 60 to 80 years old, a new version of the chicken pox virus can reactivate, and cause us to experience shingles.
What is Shingles?
Shingles is a blistering rash that covers one side of the body or face. It is caused by the same virus that is responsible for chicken pox, a type of herpes. If you experienced chicken pox as a child, you are at risk for shingles. The herpes virus, once introduced to the body, cannot be expelled. It simply becomes inert, hidden in your system and kept inactive thanks to your immune system.
Once you reach an age where your immune system is likely to be compromised, particularly over the age of 80, it’s very easy for that virus to reactivate. Shingles is caused when this happens. Usually it only takes a week or two to clear up, just like the chicken pox; but unlike the majority of chicken pox cases, shingles tends to come back again and again, due to an aging immune system.
Signs of Shingles
The rash that is caused by the shingles virus is a very distinctive one. It will appear in a grouping, most often a strip, on only one side of the body or face. This rash is made up of painful blisters, which will often scab over after breaking open. But there are ways to tell you may be developing shingles before the rash occurs.
First, you might feel as though you’re suffering from exhaustion. Headaches, sensitivity to light, dizziness, and weakness are signs of the early stages. You may also notice changes in vision, which should prompt a call to the doctor right away. The shingles rash can’t be passed to anyone else; however, a person with an active shingles rash should avoid being around small children or babies, because they may be able to pass the chicken pox virus to them.
Prevention and Treatment
Thankfully, shingles is fairly easy to treat. Your doctor will give you an anti-viral medication that fights the herpes virus where your immune system cannot. Keeping the sores clean, and following any other advice your doctor has, will help the rash heal much faster.
Preventing shingles is more abstract. The key for avoiding the reactivation of the virus is for your immune system to stay in working order. That can be difficult if you face other illnesses and health concerns that frequently accompany growing older. In general, though, keeping your diet healthy and staying active for as long as possible are two great things to do to help your immune system stay strong. You may also wish to avoid environments that could compromise your immune system, such as taking precautions when visiting sick relatives or friends.
There is a shingle vaccine that can be given to adults, before, during, and after having shingles. This vaccine can help prevent the development of shingles, but it can also prevent future breakouts after you’ve already experienced it.
Over half of all Americans who reach the age of 80 will experience shingles at least once. By taking what precautions you can, watching for the warning signs, and following your doctor’s instructions for care, it will be only a mild annoyance quickly dealt with.