Shingles is an extremely irritating, often long-lasting skin condition that millions of Americans struggle with each year. Shingles is very often connected to chickenpox, but there are many misunderstandings about how they’re linked.
Shingles, like a number of itchy, highly communicable skin conditions, is caused by the herpes virus. Herpes zoster, the specific form of the herpes virus, is also responsible for chickenpox. Unlike some forms of herpes, herpes zoster is not a sexually transmitted infection. The shingles and chickenpox viruses are unique because they can lie dormant in the body for years. During herpes zoster’s resting phase, a person will notice no symptoms. It’s only when the virus resurfaces that symptoms crop up again. Once a person has herpes zoster, their chances of having another flare up are high. Herpes zoster is highly contagious, and is spread by skin to skin contact, or contact with the fluids that may be contained in shingles or chickenpox lesions.
Chickenpox is the first possible manifestation of herpes zoster, and it’s often associated with childhood. The main symptom of chickenpox is fast-appearing red bumps that are very itchy. Anyone can get chickenpox, but symptoms can be worse in adults or children under 12 months old. There are a number of ways to treat chickenpox, and most people don’t have long-term complications from chickenpox.
That said, the virus that caused chickenpox never leaves the body. It enters a resting phase, and if it crops up later, it will cause shingles. Shingles appears as a blistery rash, on at least one part of the body. It can appear anywhere and in multiple places at once. Unlike chickenpox, shingles can linger for months. Treatment focuses on relieving the pain and irritation caused by shingles. For some people, the pain that shingles causes can be extreme, and linger in the nerves. Even after the lesion disappears from the skin, some people continue to experience nerve pain. This condition is called postherpetic neuralgia or PHN. Treating your shingles early is the best way to prevent this chronic illness.
This is a bit of a trick question. You can only get shingles if you’ve already had chickenpox. Shingles can develop in anyone who has had chickenpox. If you haven’t had chickenpox but are exposed to someone with chickenpox or shingles, regardless of your age, you will develop chickenpox first. Age is an important factor when thinking about shingles. It’s most common in adults over 50, but anyone can contract shingles. With age, the likeliness of developing postherpetic neuralgia rises drastically. Not only is the risk higher with age, but the pain caused by the condition intensifies with age, though it’s not understood why this seems to be the case.
Even without PHN, shingles is an extremely painful and disruptive condition. Doctors have developed a shingles vaccine called Zostavax that can be administered yearly. The vaccine can be administered if you’re over 50 years old. If you’re over 60, it’s highly recommended that you get the Zostavax vaccine. The shingles vaccine can reduce your chances of developing shingles by 50%, and it also makes the virus less communicable if you do catch it. Symptoms of shingles are less severe with vaccinated individuals, and they’re far less likely to develop postherpetic neuralgia after the shingles clears up.
If you haven’t had chickenpox, you can’t get shingles—but that doesn’t mean that contact with shingles won’t get you sick. If you are over the age of 50, and have had chickenpox, consider the Zostavax vaccine and call the professionals at Northeast Dermatology Associates.
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