September 22, 2017

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What are Shingles?

Shingles

It started with those little red bumps and a rash. Then those bumps got itchy and your mom covered you from head to toe with Calamine lotion so you wouldn’t scratch and spread the rash to other parts of your body or worse yet to your siblings.  What am I talking about?  I know you remember; those dreaded Chicken Pox.

You thought you were done with Chicken Pox, but now as an adult you need to be concerned because the Chicken Pox virus never really left your system.  The virus has been hibernating inside your body waiting to potentially reoccur at any time.  As an adult, when this virus comes back, we call this Shingles.  Shingles usually appear in older adults but can also appear when your immune system is weakened due to stress or another illness.

What do Shingles look like?

If you start to see what looks like a cluster of little blisters forming somewhere on your body that seem to be lying on a red base, it’s likely that you might have Shingles and should seek medical attention.  Shingles doesn’t take over your entire body like when you had Chicken Pox; they tend to cluster together in one area; so you might see them on a part of your face, one arm or one thigh.

Risks/Concerns

The Shingles rash can range from mild to severely painful. The virus irritates the nerves and the pain can last for months or even years, with some people having chronic pain that never goes away. Shingles usually occurs in one nerve distribution area such as one side of the leg, one side of the stomach or one side of the face.  Shingles of the face is much more serious because it can get into the eyes and that can cause vision problems.

Shingles is basically the chicken pox virus limited to a small area of skin,  so it will not affect your entire system.  There is a small risk, however, that open blisters may become infected with bacteria.

Shingles Vaccine

I tell my patients that the best way to prevent getting Shingles is to stay healthy so that the immune system doesn’t get compromised.  For my patients that are over 50, I also recommend that they get the Shingles vaccine because it will reduce their risk of getting Shingles by about 50%.

For those that get infected by the Shingles virus before age 50, I still recommend that they get the vaccine because there is a chance that Shingles can reoccur and this will help reduce the risk.

What if I never got Chicken Pox as a child?

David Newcomer, DO, Internal Medicine, ACMC-Willmar

David Newcomer, DO, Internal Medicine, ACMC-Willmar

If you never had Chicken Pox as a child you will not get Shingles as an adult because the virus is not in your system.  If you do not remember having Chicken Pox as a child I would still recommend a vaccine.

Vaccinations play an important role in staying healthy as a child and as an adult.  It is important that our children get the Chicken Pox vaccine to help prevent them from getting Shingles as an adult.

Do you have any questions about Shingles or Chicken Pox? Ask Dr. Newcomer by commenting below or talk to your health care provider.

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