With a great deal of press surrounding the COVID-19 vaccines, it is all too easy to lose focus on the other important immunizations for the elderly. But there is one in particular that deserves some time in the spotlight: the shingles vaccine.
What Is Shingles?
Shingles is an illness triggered by the same virus that causes chickenpox. If an individual has gotten chickenpox, they are at an increased risk for developing shingles in the future. This happens because the virus stays dormant in nerve tissue near the brain and spinal cord for years before possibly reactivating.
Although not life-threatening, shingles can be hugely painful and trigger multiple other problematic effects, including:
- A red, blistering rash (commonly wrapping around one region of the torso)
- Sensitivity, itching, burning, numbness, or tingling
- Light sensitivity
- And more
Additionally, long-term impacts may include skin infections, eye infections (that can lead to loss of vision), balance or hearing problems, facial paralysis, encephalitis, and much more.
Who Is at Risk for Shingles?
There are a variety of risk factors, most commonly age. Shingles is most common in individuals 50 and over, with the risk rising as they age. In addition, those who meet the subsequent criteria are also at an elevated risk for shingles:
- Having a compromised immune system caused by an ailment such as 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 protect against a transplanted organ from being rejected
Is Shingles Avoidable?
Fortunately, a highly effective vaccine is available and suggested for adults age 50 and older, and any person age 19 and older with a compromised immune system. The CDC suggests the Shingrix vaccine, a 2-dose injection that is greater than 90% effective in seniors.
Complications from Shingrix are minimal – much more bearable as compared to effects of shingles itself. The most common symptoms include mild or moderate pain in the arm, redness, and inflammation at the injection site. Some other reported effects include headache, stomachache, muscle pain, fever, shivering, nausea, or fatigue. The effects generally go away within 2-3 days, and may be eased with over-the-counter drugs or as directed by the doctor.
What Do I Need to Do if I Currently Have Shingles?
The doctor should always be consulted if you believe that you or somebody you love has shingles, but especially 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 over the age of 60
- You (or your loved one) have a compromised immune system
How Home Care Can Help
- Providing transportation and accompaniment to doctors’ appointments and to receive the vaccine
- Monitoring for alterations in condition so they can be reported and attended to right away
- Errand-running, such as picking up prescriptions and groceries
- Making balanced meals and ensuring adequate hydration
- And more