Marsh column: Painful shingles require early detection, treatment
By Ester Marsh
For the Salisbury Post
I just got back from the Netherlands and my apologies for not having an article last week. Too much to do in too little time, but had a great time with my family. One of my favorite aunties, who is 88 and in great shape, is stricken with shingles. This lady is one tough cookie. She is a breast cancer survivor and has dealt with many other ailments but this has been tough on her. I thought I’d share what shingles is and maybe you can help prevent or diagnose it early this way.
Shingles is the same virus that causes the chickenpox. Once you have had the chickenpox the virus becomes dormant in the nerve roots. Why the virus sometimes becomes active again is unclear. Shingles can happen to any age group but are more likely to develop if you are older than 60, if you had chickenpox before the age of 1, or your immune system is weakened by medications, disease or stress.
Shingles is a painful skin rash often with blisters caused by the varicella zoster virus (same as chickenpox). Only people who have had chickenpox can get shingles. The shingles vaccine was recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to reduce the risk of getting shingles or to make it less painful if you do get it. The vaccination is for people 60 years and older. I would definitely check with your doctor about that, I told my mom and dad to check into it too. Shingles are very painful and at times debilitating. It usually clears in 2 to 3 weeks. The chance of it reoccurring is very slim. Sometimes the virus can affect the nerves that control movement, you may have temporary weakness or paralysis, and in extreme cases it can be permanent. That’s why it is so important to go to your doctor as soon as you suspect shingles. Signs and symptoms of shingles usually affect only a small section of your body.
• Pain, itching, tingling in a certain area where a couple of days later a rash may occur.
• Rash turns into clusters of blisters. The blisters will fill with fluid and later crust over.
• Some may experience headaches, fever and chills, aching body (like the flu), fatigue.
I believe you should visit your doctor even with the “milder” cases but especially when the pain and rash is near your eyes (it can cause permanent damage and even blindness).
Although there is not a cure for the shingles your doctor can prescribe anti viral medications, pain medication and skin creams to get you better sooner and make it less painful.
Simple cool wet compresses can help alleviate the pain too.
If you are into exercising and/or want to start an exercise program and are wondering when you are able to exercise again; First, your blisters have to be scabbed over. Anyone who has not had the chickenpox yet is susceptible to get infected. Ask your doctor for when he or she feels it is ok to exercise again. If you are cleared to exercise but are still dealing with post shingles pain, it is recommended to avoid friction in those painful areas. Avoid aerobics as sweat and heat can irritate the rash site. Avoid exercising in extremely hot or cold weather. Both extremes can aggravate the pain at the sites of your shingles because of the change in temperature.
What you can try is yoga and or stretching exercises.
Yoga and stretching exercises (of course as long it does not cause pain) may help you relax and manage the post shingles pain better.
So, if you are 60 years or older talk to your doctor about the shingles vaccination. If you suspect that you have shingles, make an appointment with your doctor. The sooner you treat it, the faster the recovery.
Ester Marsh, ACSM Cpt
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