Each year, nearly one million people come down with shingles, a painful condition otherwise known as herpes zoster, according to Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) data. It is estimated that almost one out of three people in the United States will develop shingles in his or her lifetime.
While anyone can get shingles, the risk of the virus reactivating increases as a person ages. About half of all cases of shingles occur in men and women 60 years old or older, notes the CDC.
Age isn’t the only contributing risk factor. People with conditions such as certain types of HIV and cancer (leukemia and lymphoma) have compromised immune systems and are susceptible to herpes zoster. Immunodepressive medications, such as steroids, can increase the chance of a shingles outbreak. Contracting shingles is, however, a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Shingles is a rash that appears on one side of the body. At onset, it starts as red spots, which quickly turn into groups of clear and painful blisters. Flu-like symptoms may accompany the rash. Post-herpatic pain can be very strong, lasting from weeks to months and even years, according to information from the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
The AAD offers five tips to help address the pain and discomfort that accompanies shingles:
- See a board-certified dermatologist as soon as possible. Antiviral medication and pain medication will help shorten the duration of symptoms if initiated within 72 hours of the appearance of a rash.
- Treat the affected areas with ice packs; cool, wet cloths; or cool baths.
- Apply calamine lotion to the rash and blisters. Avoid opening blisters and releasing fluid. The blisters help the skin heal.
- Use non-stick, sterile bandages to cover the rash.
- Wear loose-fitting cotton clothing around the painful areas.
Shingles are contagious, but only to those who have not had chickenpox. Caregivers should use common-sense safety precautions, including proper hand-washing techniques and wearing gloves during dressing changes. The AAD recommends that people 60 years of age and older get the shingles vaccination and that those who are at risk of infection avoid coming in contact with the blister fluid.