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August 2015

Vaccine Lessens Pain from Shingles

Children aren’t the only ones who shy away from shots. Many more adults in the U.S. skip out on recommended vaccinations. In fact, only about 1 out of 4 eligible older adults has received the shot for shingles. That leaves many at high risk for the condition and the lasting pain it may cause, says a recent study.

Man with sleeve rolled up, getting a shot

A sum-up on shingles

If you have ever had chickenpox, then you are at risk for shingles. The varicella-zoster virus causes both illnesses. After you have chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in your body. As you grow older, your immune system may weaken. The virus may then reactivate. The reason why isn’t quite clear.

Unlike chickenpox, shingles doesn’t spread all over your body. The rash tends to cluster, often around a person’s torso. Small, red, itchy bumps turn into painful blisters. In time, those blisters become scabs that fall off.

The rash usually fades within a couple weeks. But the worse symptom of shingles—the throbbing pain—can linger much longer. It’s called postherpetic neuralgia. Some people may have this burning pain for months or years. It may be so debilitating they may suffer from insomnia, depression, or weight loss. What’s more, treatment may not always help.

Protection against pain

The vaccine for shingles isn’t 100% effective. In fact, studies show it may prevent only half of shingles cases. Its protection may also wear off as a person grows older. Yet it may still be well worth it from a pain standpoint.

In a recent study, researchers compared the degree of shingles pain between a group of vaccinated and unvaccinated adults. Some of those who got the shot still ended up with shingles. But their experience with the illness wasn’t as bad as those who chose not to be vaccinated. More important, their pain went away sooner.

Experts recommend all adults ages 50 and older consider the shingles vaccine. Talk with your health care provider to make sure it is right for you. People who have a weakened immune system should not receive the shot. That includes those with HIV, AIDS, or cancer. Skip it too if:

  • You may be allergic to gelatin or an ingredient in the vaccine

  • You are taking medicine such as a steroid that may weaken your immune system

 

Treating shingles

Prompt treatment is the best way to ease the symptoms of shingles. If you develop a rash that you think may be shingles, see your health care provider as soon as possible. Certain medicines work best within 3 days of the onset of the rash.

Your health care provider may also recommend acetaminophen or ibuprofen to ease the pain. If those drugs don’t work, he or she may prescribe a stronger pain reliever. Some medicines for depression and seizures may also help. But side effects may be a concern. You can also try applying a cold, damp washcloth to the blisters to ease the itch and pain.

 

Take this quiz to test your knowledge about shingles.

 

Online Medical Reviewer: Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 7/28/2015
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