Over a million cases of shingles are reported each year, with one in every
three people developing a case at some point in life. Shingles is caused
by the same virus that causes chickenpox (herpes zoster), but with shingles,
the blisters tend to be clustered in a specific area, rather than scattered
all over the body as in chickenpox. Shingles most often affects areas
on the trunk or face with initial symptoms of pain, numbness, tingling,
and/or itching mostly on one side of the body. Skin eruptions may appear
one to five days after the initial onset of pain. In the pre-eruption
stage, diagnosis may be difficult and the pain so severe that it can be
mistaken for kidney stones, gallstones, pleurisy, appendicitis or even
a heart attack.
A red rash then develops with small bumps turning into fluid filled blisters
similar to chickenpox. Shingles can be very painful, making touching the
affected area intolerable. Even after the rash disappears, the area may
remain very painful even to the slightest touch. Shingles is not contagious,
however, the virus that causes shingles can be transmitted to someone
who has never had chickenpox, putting them at risk of developing chickenpox,
but not shingles.
Getting a shingles vaccine minimizes the risk of getting shingles and has
been approved by the Food and Drug Administration in people 60 years of
age and older. Ask your primary care doctor if the shingles vaccine is
right for you.
“Treating shingles most often involves prescribing anti-viral medications
and pain medications,” said Peggy Messick, RN, BSN, OCN, Disease
Prevention Specialist at the CVMC Health First Center. “Anti-viral
medication works best if started early – so make an appointment
with a doctor when shingles symptoms first appear.”
If you have shingles, here are some suggestions for relief:
• Make sure to get enough rest, avoid stress as much as possible,
and eat well-balanced meals.
• Simple exercises like stretching or walking can help. Check with
your doctor first.
• Dip a washcloth in cool water and apply it to blisters to ease pain
and help dry blisters.
• Do things to take your mind off the pain. Watch TV, read interesting
books, talk with friends, or work on a hobby.
• Try to relax. Stress can make the pain worse. Listen to relaxing music.
• Share your feelings about your pain with family and friends. Ask
for their help.
For more information on shingles and other health issues, please contact
Peggy Messick at the CVMC Health First Center – 828/485-2300; ext. 6202.