With the large amount of press regarding the COVID-19 vaccinations, it is very easy to lose focus on the other crucial vaccinations for aging parents. But there’s one specifically that is worthy of time in the spotlight: the shingles vaccine.
What Is Shingles?
Shingles is an illness caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. If someone has ever had chickenpox, they are at risk for developing shingles later on. This is because the virus remains dormant in nerve tissue near the brain and spinal cord for many years before potentially reactivating.
While not life-threatening, shingles can be very painful and cause multiple other complicated effects, such as:
- A red, blistering rash (usually wrapping around one part of torso)
- Sensitivity, itching, burning, numbness, or tingling
- Light sensitivity
- And much more
On top of that, long-lasting side effects can include skin infections, eye infections (that may result in loss of vision), stability or hearing trouble, facial paralysis, encephalitis, and others.
Who Is at Risk of Contracting Shingles?
There are a number of risk factors, most commonly age. Shingles is most widespread in people 50 and over, with the possibility increasing as they age. In addition, individuals who meet the following conditions are also at an elevated risk for shingles:
- Immunocompromised due to an illness like cancer, HIV/AIDS, or other condition
- In the process of treatment that affects the immune system, including chemo or radiation
- Taking steroids or medications that reduce the risk of a transplanted organ from being rejected
Is Shingles Preventable?
Thankfully, an effective vaccine is accessible and recommended for adults age 50 and older, and individuals age 19 and older with a compromised immune system. The CDC recommends the Shingrix vaccine, a 2-dose injection that is over 90% effective in seniors.
Adverse reactions from Shingrix are minimal – a lot more bearable in comparison to effects of shingles itself. The typical symptoms include mild or moderate discomfort in the arm, redness, and inflammation at the injection site. Other noted side effects include headache, stomachache, muscle pain, fever, shivering, nausea, or fatigue. These side effects commonly subside within 2-3 days, and can be alleviated with over-the-counter medications or as directed by the physician.
What Should I Do if I Already Have Shingles?
Your physician should always be conferred with if you suspect that you or a person you love has shingles, but in particular if any of the following apply:
- The rash is anywhere in the vicinity of the eyes
- The rash is painful and widespread
- You (or your loved one) are 60 or older
- You (or your loved one) have a compromised immune system
How Aging Care Can Help
- Providing transportation and accompaniment to doctors’ visits and to receive the vaccine
- Monitoring for changes in condition so they can be reported and addressed as soon as possible
- Running errands, including picking up prescriptions and groceries
- Preparing balanced meals and ensuring adequate hydration
- And much more