At our practice at the Center for Dermatology in Hagerstown and Martinsburg, we’ve noticed an increase in cases of shingles. We were curious to know if it was just a “fluke” or if shingles truly is on the rise. So we did a little digging.
We found that the number of shingles cases is, in fact, increasing.
The CDC reports that shingles has been steadily on the rise for many years, although the reason for the increase in cases is not known. Currently, statistics support that one in three adults over the age of 65 will have at least one episode of the itchy, blistery rash known as shingles in their lifetime.
So what is shingles? What causes it? How do you know if you have it? What can be done to treat it?
Causes and symptoms of shingles:
Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles. Often, shingles appears years or decades after a case of chicken pox.
Even if you think you have never had chicken pox, you may be at risk for the shingles virus because you may have had a mild case of chickenpox at some time that went unnoticed. After a case of chickenpox goes away, the virus remains in the body. If the virus reactivates, the result is shingles.
The signs of shingles:
The first signs of shingles appear 1 to 5 days before a rash develops. Itching burning, tingling, or pain develops in the area where the rash will occur. The shingles’ rash then develops and it is a painful, blistering rash, usually occurring on one side of the body.
The most common area of the body for the rash to occur is on the waist; the word “shingles” actually comes from the Latin word for “waist.” However, shingles can occur anywhere on the body.
Sometimes the shingles rash is accompanied by fever, chills, headache, or upset stomach.
Most cases of shingles last 3 to 5 weeks.
What to do if you have shingles:
In some people the pain and itch of shingles can occur even after the rash has healed due to damaged nerves in and beneath the skin. Dr. Hurst therefore recommends seeing one of our providers if you think to have shingles.
While over the counter pain and anti-itch medications are helpful, prescription anti-viral medication is also recommended to lesson the chances of a shingles outbreak causing long-term effects.
Anti-viral medication can also lessen and shorten the symptoms while the rash is occurring.
Seeing a health professional is also important for proper diagnoses because shingles rashes can resemble other skin conditions, like poison ivy and an accurate diagnosis is important for treatment.
Dr. Hurst also recommends receiving the shingles vaccine after the age of 50, when your risk of getting shingles increases. A vaccine can reduce your risk of getting shingles, as well as lesson the symptoms and reduce the chance of developing nerve pain if you do get it.