Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful rash. They most often appear as a stripe of blisters that wraps around one side of your torso. The cause of shingles in the elderly is a virus called varicella-zoster. Chickenpox and shingles are both caused by this virus. After you have chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain. Years after recovering from chickenpox, it can reactivate and cause shingles. Because the chickenpox vaccine is relatively new, most adults in the United States had chickenpox and can develop shingles.
Shingles in the Elderly
We know shingles is a painful disease that comes with itchy blisters and could also cause general sick feelings of headaches, chills, and nausea. But how dangerous is shingles in the elderly? Unfortunately, the answer is fairly dangerous. As we age, we have a harder time fighting off infection. This makes elderly people more susceptible to shingles, and more likely to experience long-term effects. Conditions that weaken the immune system also make shingles more likely.
Long Term Effects of Shingles in Elderly
The most common long term effect of shingles is a condition called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). PHN is long-term nerve pain that occurs where the shingles rash was located even once the rash goes away. This condition can last for months or even years and can make recovery from shingles in the elderly particularly challenging. Shingles located on the face can cause eye damage or blindness if not treated very quickly. Is shingles deadly to the elderly? Luckily, it is extremely rare that shingles is deadly to the elderly.
Vaccines and Treatments
While shingles is dangerous for the elderly, there is good news. There are several antiviral treatments that help shorten shingles and lessen the severity of the rash and pain. You can also try using a cool compress on the rash to lessen itching. Calamine lotion and an oatmeal bath can also lessen some of the pain and discomfort brought on by shingles.
There is a shingles vaccine called Shingrix, recommended for all adults ages 50 and older. It is administered in two doses. You can get the vaccine even if you have had shingles before, or you don’t remember if you ever had chickenpox. The vaccine is generally available at your doctor’s office and local drugstore, or you can also visit Vaccine Finder to find a location near you.
If you had chickenpox when you were younger, keep an eye out for shingles. Pain and a tingling sensation can occur in the torso area a few days before the rash appears. The faster you can get to your healthcare professional and begin treatment, the quicker shingles will clear up. And be sure to seek out the vaccine as soon as possible. It is the best way to prevent suffering from this unpleasant disease.