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Shingles written out on paper.

Chickenpox increases your risk of this painful condition

If you have had chickenpox, you are at risk for developing shingles, a painful skin rash that typically develops on one side of the body or face. Shingles is caused by the chickenpox virus, varicella zoster virus, which remains inactive in the body after the outbreak has cleared.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in three people in the United States will have shingles at some point in their life.

Krishna Kunche, M.D., a primary care physician at Piedmont, shares how to know if you have shingles and what to do if you develop the condition.

The most common symptoms of shingles

The most common symptom of shingles is a painful skin rash that can appear on one side of the face or body, or all over, like chickenpox. The rash usually causes blisters that will scab over after a week and heal after two to four weeks.

Many people have itchiness, pain or tingling on the skin a few days before the rash appears.

Other symptoms include:

  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Upset stomach

In rare cases, shingles will develop in the eyes, which can lead to blindness if left untreated. Seek medical care immediately if you suspect you have shingles in your eyes.

What causes shingles?

People of any age can get shingles, including children, but people over the age of 60 are most at risk.

Experts are not entirely sure what causes shingles flare-ups, but certain factors may trigger the infection, including:

  • Medical conditions that affect your immune system, such as HIV, leukemia or lymphoma
  • Significant stress in your life
  • Taking immunosuppressive medications, like steroids or medications after organ transplantation

Is shingles contagious?

Like chickenpox, shingles can be spread through direct contact with fluid from the blisters. Once the blisters have scabbed over, the virus is no longer contagious.

If you have never had chickenpox and are exposed to fluid from shingles blisters, you would be at risk for developing chickenpox, not shingles.

How is shingles treated?

See your doctor if you have a shingles outbreak. He or she may recommend the following to relieve your symptoms:

  • Antiviral medications
  • Calamine lotion
  • Colloidal oatmeal baths
  • Pain-relieving medications
  • Wet compresses

“If you think you have shingles, see your doctor as early as possible,” he advises. “Antiviral therapy administered within 72 hours of rash eruption decreases the duration and severity of shingles.”

Antiviral medication also reduces the chances of shingles-related problems, like postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), which is severe pain in the area where you had the rash.

Shingles prevention

If you have shingles, you can prevent spreading the virus by:

  • Covering the rash until it has cleared up.
  • Avoiding contact with premature babies, pregnant women who have never had chickenpox or those with immunocompromising diseases.
  • Not touching or scratching the affected area.
  • Washing your hands often, especially if you have touched the rash or blisters.

To prevent shingles in the first place, talk to your physician about the shingles vaccine. It has been shown to reduce the risk of shingles by 51 percent and the risk of PHN by 67 percent.

“Adults age 60 years and older should receive one dose of the shingles vaccine, regardless of whether they had a prior episode of shingles,” says Dr. Kunche.

Talk to your doctor to see if you need a shingles vaccine, and be sure to verify if Medicare/Medicare Advantage is accepted prior to your appointment. Save time, book online.

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