If you’ve ever had the chickenpox then there’s a strong likelihood that the chickenpox virus, known as the varicella zoster virus, is still in your body. This virus can lie dormant without exhibiting any symptoms for an extended amount of time. However, when the virus wakes, it results in a painful and easily distinctive rash known as shingles.
As mentioned, shingles occurs in individuals who have had the chickenpox. Shingles are less likely to occur in children and much more likely to occur in adults, as the risk of getting shingles tends to increase as we age. Because of this risk, Dr. Ali Ghahary suggests individuals aged 60 and older should get the shingles vaccine. While the vaccine does not guarantee you won’t ever develop shingles, it’s still the best way to prevent shingles from occurring, and has been shown to reduce the risk by as much as 50%. In the event that you were to still develop shingles even after receiving the vaccination, it can still help to reduce pain associated with shingles.
While there has been no evidence to suggest that the shingles vaccine isn’t safe, it is still possible to have an allergic reaction to the vaccine itself. Common reactions to the shingles vaccine can include headache as well as redness and soreness around the area in which the vaccination was done, to more severe reactions such as swelling, itching and/or a rash, and trouble breathing. If you notice these or any other abnormal symptoms after getting the vaccine, it’s important that you seek medical attention right away. Most clinics will have you wait approximately 15 minutes after getting the vaccine to ensure you don’t have a life-threatening reaction. You should not get the shingles vaccine if you are ill or have a fever, and you should first check with your physician prior to getting the vaccine if you have had a reaction to any of its components such as neomycin or gelatin, have a weak immune system due to disease or other medical treatment, have tuberculosis, are pregnant or planning to become pregnant.
The shingles generally occurs on one side of the body – commonly the torso or the chest, and a side from a rash you can also develop blisters. Prior to noticing a rash or blisters, you may notice a painful, burning, itching or tingling sensation of the skin. Once the rash has developed, it can last anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks. During this time, it is important that you do not rub, itch, pick or scratch the rash or the blisters, as this could result in infection and scarring. Taking a lukewarm oatmeal or cornstarch bath can help to alleviate some of the irritation. You can also take over-the-counter medications, such as Tylenol or Advil, for pain and to help with the inflammation.