5 Questions Commonly Asked by Seniors About the Disease "Shingles"

What you should know about Shingles for Senior Care

senior careRecently a friend’s 90-something mother-in-law developed shingles.  Really the only thing I recall from the couple of friends who had it was how painful it was.  I thought a little exploration into this subject would be helpful for you as well as me.

1.  What is Shingles? 

It’s a painful skin rash caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox.  Once you have chicken pox, the virus remains in your body and become reactive later resulting in shingles.  Consequently, this disease becomes an important area to understand if you are providing senior care.

2.  What causes the virus to reactivate?

  • Aging – as we age, our immune systems become weakened and with that, we aren’t able to fight against infections and so the shingles virus can rear its ugly head
  • Weakened immunity – this can be due to cancer or HIV/AIDS and their treatments such as radiation, organ transplants, and potent drugs
  • Stress – although it’s not the stress itself that causes shingles, those who get shingles have often had a recent stressful event in their life

3.  What are the symptoms of shingles?

  • At first, your skin may tingle or you may feel a burning sensation, most frequently on one side of the body, like the torso, neck or face
  • Within 3-5 days, a small rash will appear as red and blotchy with small blisters in a specific area rather than as spread all over the body.  Interestingly, the rash will commonly follow a stripe because it follows a nerve path.
  • Following the rash, the fluid filled blisters will crust over, lasting about two weeks
  • The pain that accompanies shingles can be mild or severe and can last anywhere from a few weeks up to a year.

4.  How will my doctor treat shingles? 

As with any illness, the sooner you go to the doctor the better as starting antiviral medications can help reduce the severity of the symptoms.  Besides an antiviral medication, a senior care doctor may recommend either an over the counter or prescription pain reliever as well as steroid medications.

5.  Is there anything to prevent shingles? 

Luckily, there is a vaccine available from your doctor or local pharmacy for those adults 60 and over.  It will help prevent shingles or at least reduce how bad the symptoms are when you get it.

Want to learn more?  Visit WebMD's article on Shingles!