Considering that 1 in 3 Americans develop shingles at least once during their lifetime, it’s important to understand the condition and what you can do to prevent it.
The new shingles vaccine is wonderful news for anyone who is concerned about becoming infected. Experts believe that Shingrix offers significantly better protection than the older vaccine Zostavax.
Shingles is brought on by the chickenpox virus. If you’ve had chickenpox, that virus has been lying dormant in your body, and it can trigger shingles at any time if it becomes reactivated. While most patients recover from shingles in about 4 weeks or less, others have complications that last for the rest of their lives.
Shingles is serious, but you can dramatically lower your risk if you know what to do. Take a few minutes to educate yourself and protect your health.
- Know your risks. Shingles can strike anyone who has had chickenpox or been vaccinated. Older adults are at especially high risk, as well as adults with suppressed immune systems.
- Avoid contaminating others. The virus spreads easily when someone goes out in public with open blisters. While you can’t catch shingles, you could be infected with chickenpox if you haven’t had it before.
- Get vaccinated. Shingrix is believed to be more than 90% effective at preventing shingles and its complications for all age groups. You’ll need two doses, spaced about 2 to 6 months apart. The most common side effects are soreness, headaches, and swelling that last up to a few days.
- Talk with your doctor. Your physician can answer any questions and advise you on whether the Shingrix vaccine is appropriate for you. They may recommend getting the new vaccine even if you received the old version in the past.
- Spot the early signs. Shingles is relatively easy to detect because of its distinctive symptoms. You’ll usually have a blistering rash on one side of your body or face.
- Consider antivirals. Taking antiviral medication within the first 2 to 3 days can help you to recover from shingles faster and avoid more serious complications and discomfort. The three main drugs currently used are famciclovir, valacyclovir, and acyclovir.
- Treat neuralgia. Nerve pain is the most troubling symptom of shingles, especially for patients over 60. This postherpetic neuralgia can vary in intensity and last for months or even becoming permanent.
- Watch for other complications. Other complications are rare but important to watch out for. See your doctor immediately if you notice shingles near your eyes, ears, or anywhere on your nose or higher. Quick action may protect your eyesight and hearing.
- Reduce discomfort. In addition to prescriptions and over-the-counter pain medication, there are home remedies that may provide some relief. Try oatmeal baths, cold compresses, and calamine lotion.
- Resist scratching. It’s tempting to rub the infected area, but that will only increase your discomfort. Warm baths, moisturizers, and loose clothing made of natural fibers are a safer way to soothe your skin. You may also benefit from some distraction like calling a friend or watching a movie.
- Eat and rest. Keep your immune system strong so you can fight off infection. Eat a balanced diet rich in whole foods and aim for at least 8 hours of sleep each night.
- Manage stress. It’s difficult to feel relaxed when you’re dealing with pain, itching, and a body rash. Try to relieve stress with yoga or listening to soft instrumental music.
Shingles and its complications can disrupt your life, but you can protect your health by getting vaccinated or getting prompt treatment if you’re infected. Talk with your doctor about the most appropriate options for your individual care.