Varicella, also known as chickenpox, is an infection that we are all too familiar with. With nearly 3.5 million cases each year, it is safe to assume that many of us have contracted varicella at some point in our lives. If you are one of the many individuals who has had chickenpox, then you’ve probably heard of shingles, a disease affecting only those who have had the varicella virus. But does that include you? Who is at a higher risk of developing shingles? Can you prevent it? Not to worry. Keep calm and read on as we discuss what shingles is and how you may be affected.
We can think of shingles as chickenpox’s sibling, as both infections are results of the varicella virus. Varicella is very sneaky, however. When we contract chickenpox, the varicella virus is clear and present in our systems. Even when our bodies successfully fight off the infection, traces of the virus remain hidden and dormant in our nervous systems. At any moment (usually years later), the varicella virus can reactivate and reappear as shingles.
Symptoms include pain and burning of the skin, the appearance of red rashes in blotches, fever, headache, muscle fatigue, and more. The rashes and burning typically occur on just one side of the body along the back and torso. Although, in some cases, shingles can spread to the neck, face, eyes, and buttocks. Shingles of the eye can be particularly painful and irritating and can significantly limit your vision as your eyelids swell. If left untreated, you could suffer from long-term vision loss and irreversible scarring.
Any individual who has ever had the chickenpox is at risk of getting shingles. Nonetheless, certain circumstances could put you at an even higher risk. This includes people over the age of 60, individuals with weakened immune systems due to health conditions or the taking of immunosuppressant medications, and individuals who have had any form of radiation treatment or chemotherapy.
There are vaccines available that can keep you from developing major symptoms of shingles, but they cannot prevent the varicella virus from reactivating. Zostavox and Shingrix are the two vaccines administered and are believed to successfully limit symptoms.
Preventing chickenpox (if you’ve never had it) is the only way to truly prevent shingles. Varicella vaccines for chickenpox are often very successful in blocking the virus in both children and adults.
Shingles should be treated within 72 hours of the appearance of symptoms. It is typically treated with various types of medication. Antivirals may be prescribed to speed up recovery. While certain anti-inflammatory drugs, narcotics, and topical numbing creams reduce pain. If treated properly, shingles will disappear in a matter of several weeks.
If you believe that you are suffering from shingles, visit your physician right away. If you are in Cincinnati, Ohio or a surrounding city, our experts at The Dermatology Group will gladly offer advice, resources, and treatment. Give us a call today!