Chances are, if you had chickenpox as a kid, you remember it. Those tiny red blotches can cause a firestorm of itchiness that lasts weeks, and they can even produce scars if you scratch too much. Unfortunately, if you have suffered through chickenpox at some point in your life, the ghost of that viral infection still lingers in your body. And as you age, the virus can morph into an even more painful infection known as shingles. Luckily, vaccines can reduce the risk of outbreak, and early treatment can shorten the discomfort. To ensure you get help as quickly as possible, watch out for the symptoms of shingles.
Symptoms of Shingles
Much like chickenpox, shingles is not life threatening. It is often incredibly painful, however, and appears as a swatch of red blisters. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful rash . . . The infection is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. After you’ve had chickenpox, the virus lies inactive in nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain.” Once reactivated, shingles can occur anywhere on your body, but the rash most often shows up on one side of your torso.
Does Age Increase Your Risk of Shingles?
Unfortunately, yes. Your risk of developing shingles increases as you age, but not everyone who had chickenpox develops shingles later in life. The virus usually shows up in people 50 years of age or older.
As the Mayo Clinic reports, there are other risk factors associated with shingles. Certain diseases that impact your immune system, including cancer, HIV, and AIDS, can increase your risk of shingles, as can radiation, chemotherapy, and even certain medications. If you’re concerned that you’re presenting symptoms of shingles or are worried about your risk of developing the virus, be sure to consult your doctor before changing your medical routine.
What Symptoms Should You Look for?
Much like the flu or even chickenpox, early symptoms of shingles can be hard to spot. Some people first present symptoms like fever, headache, fatigue, and even sensitivity to light. But for most people, the first symptom of shingles is pronounced pain, which some people report as excruciating. Not everyone develops a rash, but most people suffering from shingles will notice the appearance of fluid-filled blisters on a section of the torso on one side of the body. More symptoms of shingles include noticeable burning, numbness or tingling, and even sensitivity to touch.
While the symptoms of shingles most often affect your midsection, the virus can also appear near your eyes. This form of shingles is known as ocular shingles and can cause swelling and redness of the eye or eyelid.
How Can You Treat Shingles?
Shingles might be incredibly painful, but it’s not life threatening. In fact, the rash often clears up without treatment in a matter of weeks. But if you spot symptoms of shingles early enough, treatment can cut the virus’s lifespan short and save you from prolonged discomfort. Early treatment can also reduce your risk of residual pain even after the virus has left your system. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, treatment can prevent the pain, numbness, itching, and tingling from lasting months and even years.
Depending on your age and current medications, treatment options can vary. Prescription painkillers can help manage the discomfort caused by shingles, and an anti-viral medication can help if the virus has been diagnosed within 72 hours of the rash first appearing.
Are you experiencing the symptoms of shingles? As soon as you notice something is wrong, contact your doctor to schedule an appointment to see if you can minimize the symptoms or shorten the lifespan of the infection.
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