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Shingles in Older Adults

Shingles is a painful skin rash caused by the varicella zoster virus, sometimes called herpes zoster. It often appears in a band, a strip, or a small area on one side of the face or body.
Shingles is most common in older adults and people who have weak immune systems. It can flare up because of stress, injury, certain medicines, and other reasons. Most people who get shingles will get better and will not get it again. But it is possible to get shingles more than once.

The good news – you can't catch shingles from someone else who has shingles. But, there is a small chance that a person with a shingles rash can spread the virus to another person who hasn't previously had chickenpox or who hasn't had the chickenpox vaccine.


The Symptoms

  • Headache
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Flu like symptoms, without fever
  • Itching
  • Pain in certain areas of the body
  • A rash with blisters that fill with fluid and then crust over

Often, it takes weeks for the rash to heal, and may leave behind scarring. Not all people will suffer from all the symptoms of shingles. Some will experience the lesser symptoms while other will have more severe symptoms.

Treatment Options

Shingles is treated with anti-viral and pain medication. Starting medication right away can help the rash to heal faster, and lessen the pain and other symptoms. See your doctor right away if you think you may have shingles. Fortunately, a shingles vaccine is available for adults that lowers your chances of getting shingles and prevents later flare ups. Ask your doctor about being vaccinated.

El Camino Health Primary Care provides comprehensive services for older adults, including regular medical care and vaccinations.

This article first appeared in the May 2016 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.

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