Shingles and chickenpox are caused by the same virus -- varicella-zoster. Unfortunately, that means you can contract shingles later in life after you've had chickenpox. How can shingles affect older adults? Here's what you need to know.
If you've had chickenpox or you're not immune to chickenpox, you're at risk of developing shingles. That said, there are a few more factors that can increase your risk of developing shingles later in life. The first is age. Anyone over the age of 50 is more likely to develop shingles, and the risk only increases as they grow older. In addition, certain diseases that weaken the immune system (HIV/AIDS, cancer, etc.) can also play a role in increasing your risk of developing shingles later in life. Certain diseases like HIV/AIDS and cancer, which weaken the immune system, can also increase the likelihood of developing shingles. The reason for shingles is still unclear, though the two factors listed above are thought to play a role in its development.
If you're worried about developing shingles, there are a few symptoms you need to be on the lookout for. Much like chickenpox, this condition emerges in the form of a skin rash on the body. While there are plenty of rashes that involve redness, the shingles rash is a bit more intense. The shingles rash typically develops with fluid-filled blisters that break open and crust over. Before they break open and crust over, they'll look a lot like hives on skin. They'll likely itch or burn, as well. But before those develop, you might experience pain, a burning sensation, itchiness, and a red rash that develops a few days after the pain has started. Other symptoms to be on the lookout for include fever, headache, and sensitivity to light when shingles starts to develop.
If you aren't immune to chickenpox, either from contracting it as a child or receiving the immunization, then it's possible for you to contract the varicella-zoster virus from someone else. In that respect, the virus that causes shingles is contagious. Fortunately, this type of spread usually only happens as a result of direct contact with open shingles sores. Once you've contracted the varicella-zoster virus, you won't develop shingles right away. If you're not immune to chickenpox, you'll develop that condition. In time, you may also develop shingles as a result of contracting the varicella-zoster virus. So while shingles isn't incredibly contagious, it's still important to be cautious and protect yourself from exposure to the virus.
When older adults develop shingles, there's a high risk of complications. Some of the most common complications that can occur as a result of shingles include postherpetic neuralgia, vision loss, neurological problems, and skin infections. Postherpetic neuralgia occurs when damaged nerve fibers send exaggerated messages of pain to the brain. This type of pain can continue indefinitely after a shingles rash has cleared. Other neurological problems that can occur as a result of shingles include encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), facial paralysis, and balance issues.
If you think you're at risk for shingles, don't hesitate to make an appointment at North Pacific Dermatology today.