If you had chickenpox before your 40th birthday, then it is worth knowing about the symptoms of shingles. The chickenpox virus sits dormant in the nerve cells near the spine, but can become active again, causing shingles (also known as herpes zoster).
What are the symptoms?
The virus can reappear in people under stress or with poor immunity and often in those over 50 years. The first sign of shingles is usually a burning, tingling or sensitive feeling, followed by a red rash with fluid-filled blisters as a single stripe around one side of your torso. The blisters can be very painful and may burst and take some time to heal. Sometimes the pain lasts for many months after the skin has healed while the nerve recovers. This is called post-herpetic neuralgia and the pain can feel sharp and burning.
Do I need to see my doctor?
As soon as you believe that you may have shingles, yes absolutely, see your doctor immediately. If diagnosed early, antiviral medicines can be prescribed to control the symptoms, ease the rash and minimise damage to nerves. They can help to prevent the pain from lasting as long.
What treatments are available?
As well as antiviral medicines, it is important to start taking pain relief. Initially the pain may be relieved by over-the-counter analgesics but if it’s severe, stronger medicines may be recommended. Some specific creams are available, and these may help to relieve most of the pain, allowing you to top up with oral medicines as needed. It is a good idea to cover the rash to keep it clean and dry to reduce your risk of developing an infection or the virus spreading.
Can I prevent it?
Yes, there is now a vaccine available which is funded for people aged 65 years ongoing and for those 66–80 years until 31/12/2021.