Everything You Need to Know About Shingles

If you've ever had chicken pox, you could be at risk of developing shingles sometime in your life -- so it's important to understand the signs, symptoms and treatment options.

"Shingles is a painful blister-like rash that shows up on one specific part of the body on one side," explains Dr. Andrew Flandry, a primary care physician with Roper St. Francis Healthcare. "It's a reactivation of the virus that causes chickenpox. Anybody who has had chickenpox can get shingles because that virus stays in your body for life."

The risk of that virus reactivating and causing shingles increases as we age, Dr. Flandry says, and one in three people in the U.S. will get shingles. Here's everything you need to know about this painful condition.

What are the earliest signs?

Typically, the first symptom you'd notice is a tingling, vague burning sensation on one specific part of the body. Within a few days, a rash will show up. Occasionally, however, the rash will show up first.

What are the major symptoms?

"Once you've developed shingles, you'll experience a very painful, electric burning pain as the rash is developing," Dr. Flandry says. The rash is blistery with some redness around the site.

Sometimes you might have a low-grade fever, but that's not typical. If someone is developing a fever and worsening redness, there's a chance they could have a secondary bacterial skin infection.

How is shingles treated?

"If someone thinks they have the shingles, they should see a doctor as quickly as possible so they can be put on antiviral medication, which can hopefully stop shingles from getting any worse," Dr. Flandry says. "They can also prescribe pain medication that is targeted for nerve-related conditions."

It's important to seek treatment as soon as possible to prevent potential complications, including post-herpetic neuralgia, which is long-lasting nerve pain in the same site where the shingles rash appeared. Though it can happen to anybody, the risk increases without that antiviral treatment.

Who should get vaccinated?

In late 2017, a new, highly effective vaccine called Shingrix came out, and it's recommended for everyone over 50 who has had chicken pox. People who are at higher risk of developing shingles at a young age, including those with cancer and immunodeficiencies, can also get the vaccine if approved by their doctor. The vaccine requires two shots over the course of a few months and can usually be picked up at a pharmacy. (Though beware: demand is quite high, so it may be on back order.) Aside from getting vaccinated, there aren't many ways to reduce your risk -- but keeping your stress levels low and keeping your immune system healthy is a good start.

"The good news is that thanks to the chickenpox vaccine, we don't see chickenpox as much anymore, or if at all," Dr. Flandry says, "so hopefully in the decades to come, shingles will be extremely rare."

As the Lowcountry leader in adult healthcare, Roper St. Francis can take care of shingles and all of your primary healthcare needs. To learn more about all the healthcare services available or to schedule an appointment, call (843) 402-CARE or visit us online.