When you think about your early childhood, you probably become overwhelmed with feelings – including nostalgia, bittersweetness, pride, or joy. You may remember the time you learned how to ride a bike, tie your shoes by yourself, or hit your first home run. But, do you remember when you had the chickenpox?
The chickenpox often occurs in young children and is a viral infection that causes itchy, red bumps all over the body. While the chickenpox only lasts for five to 10 days, the virus can remain in your body in a sleep-like state for decades. Years after you’ve had the chickenpox, the virus may awaken and cause shingles. How do you know if you’re in danger of getting shingles, and how can you prevent the virus from waking up?
What are Shingles?
Similar to chickenpox, shingles are a viral infection that causes a painful, blistering rash on one side of the body. While shingles can occur anywhere on your body, they most often occur as a single stripe of blisters that wrap around the left or right side of your torso. The varicella-zoster virus causes them and — while painful — are not life-threatening if treated promptly. With treatment, most cases of shingles last three to five weeks.
Symptoms of Shingles
While the most common sign that the varicella-zoster virus has reactivated as shingles is painful rashes that wrap around the torso, there are other indications of the virus. Other signs may include:
- Burning, numbness, or tingling
- Sensitivity to touch
- Fluid-filled blisters that break open and crust over
- Sensitivity to light
If you suspect you have shingles, you should make an immediate appointment with your doctor. Once diagnosed, your doctor may prescribe you antiviral medication to control the infection and to speed the healing process. You may also take over-the-counter anti-inflammatories to relieve pain.
Keep in mind that the varicella-zoster virus can be passed to those who haven’t become immune to chickenpox. Until you’ve been treated and your blisters have scabbed over, you should avoid people who haven’t had the chickenpox or may have weakened immune systems. This includes pregnant women, the elderly, and newborns.
While shingles are typically non-life-threatening, there are some instances where you should visit an emergency care clinic immediately. Some of these situations include:
- If the pain and rash occur near an eye
- If you’re 60 or older
- If you have a weakened immune system
- If the rash is widespread and painful
Can Shingles Be Prevented?
While there is no guarantee that you’ll experience shingles in your lifetime, there are ways to prevent or lower your risk. This prevention comes in the form of two vaccines: chickenpox and shingles vaccine. Neither of these vaccines are used to treat the virus, but instead, are purely preventative options.
This is typically used for children to prevent chickenpox, but it’s also used for adults who haven’t had chickenpox. The vaccine doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get chickenpox or shingles, but it drastically reduces your chances of complications and the severity of the virus.
There are two options for the shingles vaccine: Zostavax and Shingrix. Both options have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Zostavax protects you from shingles for five years and is given as a single injection to the upper arm. Shingrix offers protection beyond five years and is given in two doses – with the second dose being administered six months after the first.
Shringrix is often recommended over Zostavax as it is more than 90% effective in preventing a shingles outbreak. It’s usually recommended for people aged 50 and older, while Zostavax is recommended for people 60 and older. Like the chickenpox vaccine, it doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get shingles, but it reduces the severity of the disease and your chances of complications.
To determine if the chickenpox or shingles vaccines are right for you, you should talk to your doctor about your options. They’ll provide guidance on the risks and benefits associated with the vaccines, and know if your medical history puts you at a greater risk of awakening the virus.
Emergency Services in Colorado Springs and Texas
If you or a loved one had the chickenpox when you were younger, and are now showing signs of shingles, we can provide the care you need. If you have questions or need immediate treatment, your nearest Complete Care location is ready to help, no matter the time of day or night. We offer a variety of services to help you and your family in your time of need. No appointments are necessary.
Find the Complete Care location nearest you.