When I was a little kid, I remember my mom telling me that my grandmother couldn’t come to visit because she had shingles. I gathered that this had something to do with her skin, but in my little-kid brain, I pictured a skin rash that resembled roofing tiles.

That image has stayed with me. But at my age (the same as my Granny when she got shingles), I really need to grow up and figure this one out – especially since I had chickenpox as a kid. Turns out that the varicella-zoster virus that causes chickenpox is the same one that causes shingles, and it lurks in your body, waiting until you get older and your immunities are down. 

I had a raging case of chickenpox the summer between second and third grades, and I’m over 50. I’m in shingles’ crosshairs.

So first, shingles don’t have anything to do with roofing materials. It’s a nasty rash with blisters that pop up on your face or torso – and it hurts. First, you get a tingly, painful feeling, then the ugly blisters pop up. Just like with chickenpox, it can itch. Some folks get a fever, headache, fatigue, and sensitivity to light. And some never get blisters, just painful places.

If you think you have shingles, you need to see a doctor. He can’t cure you, but the quicker you get medical attention, antiviral drugs, and pain medicine, the less painful your outbreak should be, and the faster you’ll get well. Left untreated shingles can be serious. Complications include pneumonia, encephalitis, stroke, and bacterial infections. And if it’s close to your eye, you could even lose your sight. Some people have long-term nerve pain even after they recover.

Outbreaks generally last two to six weeks, and you can get shingles more than once. Shingles aren’t contagious, but people who have never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccination can get sick with chickenpox from being exposed to a person with shingles. People with shingles should stay away from people until the blisters crust over, and avoid pregnant women, newborns, and people with weakened immune systems.

Now for the good news: There’s a vaccination for shingles. Shingrix was approved by the FDA in 2017 and studies show it can provide immunity for up to five years. The vaccine comes in two rounds that you get two to six months apart. Even with the vaccine, you can still get shingles, though. But the vaccine can reduce the severity and the length of the outbreak.

To recap – shingles don’t have anything to do with roofing materials and, if you’re over 50, you need to check with your doctor to see if you can get the vaccine.

By Amanda Rogers for Surepoint Medical Centers

Amanda Rogers is a freelance writer based in Fort Worth, Texas

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