Who’s at Risk for Getting Shingles?

What are the Facts About Shingles?

It’s estimated that half of all people over age 80 will be at risk for getting shingles during their lifetime. However, while anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk, most people live with the virus inside them without it ever becoming active. Although most people who had chickenpox experienced it as a child, those who caught chickenpox as adults are still at risk for developing shingles. Therefore, it’s imperative to know the risk factors related to this uncomfortable and extremely painful condition.

Risk Factors for Shingles

Along with having had chickenpox as a child or adult, there are other risk factors that contribute to the development of shingles. Some of the most common include:

  • Being age 50 or over
  • Having a weakened immune system due to such diseases as HIV/AIDS or cancer
  • Undergoing cancer treatments such as radiation or chemotherapy
  • Taking medications to prevent rejection of transplanted organs
What Complications can Develop from Shingles?

In addition to discussing who’s at risk for getting shingles, it’s also important to understand the various complications that may develop for those unfortunate enough to get this condition. Among the ones most prevalent and painful are:

  • Vision loss
  • Neurological problems
  • Skin infections
  • Neuralgia

Of all these complications, neuralgia may be the one that causes the most problems and lasts long after other symptoms have disappeared. Known as postherpetic neuralgia, it can send pain messages from the skin to the brain that are exaggerated, meaning the brain is told the pain is much greater that it really is. Some people who develop shingles do so around their eyes, which is known as ophthalmic shingles. When this happens, the results can include severe eye infections and even vision loss for a period of time.

How is Shingles Treated?

Though there is no cure for shingles, there are several methods of treatment available to patients. The most common are antiviral drugs that can greatly reduce the risk of complications and quicken the healing process. The three most common antiviral drugs prescribed to patients include:

  • Valtrex
  • Zovirax
  • Famvir

Along with these drugs, doctors may also prescribe other medications to help with the pain and discomfort associated with shingles. These can include:

  • Capsaicin cream
  • Lidocaine, which can be in the form of gel, cream, spray, or skin patch
  • Narcotic pain relievers such as codeine

Although shingles can last for as little as two or as long as six weeks, the good news is that a person rarely if ever gets it more than once during their lifetime. By trying to limit stress in one’s life and getting the shingles vaccine Zostavax if you’re 50 or over, you can reduce the chances of developing a severe case of shingles.

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