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Ester Marsh column: Dealing with shingles

Are you dealing with shingles or know someone who has? I have been in close contact with many people who have dealt with this very painful virus. I also believe the more you know, the better off you are, so I’d like to share what shingles are and maybe you can help prevent or diagnose it early.

Shingles is the same virus that causes 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 is more likely to develop if you are older than 60, if you had chickenpox before the age of one, or if your immune system is weakened by medications, disease or stress.

Shingles is a painful skin rash often with blisters that is caused by the varicella zoster virus (same as chickenpox). Only people who have had chickenpox can get shingles. Shingles is less contagious and cannot be passed from person to person unless the person coming in contact has not had chickenpox or the chickenpox immunization. It would not become the shingles virus — it would be the chickenpox.

The shingles vaccination was recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to reduce the risk of getting shingles or make it less painful if you do get it. The vaccination is for people 60 and older. I would definitely check with your doctor about that. Shingles is very painful and, at times, debilitating. Shingles usually clears in two to three weeks. The chance of it reoccurring is very slim.

Sometimes, the virus can affect the nerves that control movement, so 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 rash may occur a couple of days later.

• 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)

Even though there is no 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, especially pregnant women, babies and sick and/or people with weak immune system.

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 do is yoga and/or stretching exercises.

Yoga and stretching exercises (as long it does not cause pain) may help you relax and manage the post shingles pain better.

So, if you are 60 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, Associate Executive Director JF Hurley Family YMCA



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