With a great deal of media attention regarding the COVID-19 vaccines, it’s easy to lose focus on the other essential immunizations for older adults. But there is one that especially deserves some time in the spotlight: the shingles vaccine.
What Is Shingles?
Shingles is an infection caused by the exact same virus that causes chickenpox. If a person has had chickenpox, they’re at risk for developing shingles later on. This happens because the virus stays dormant in nerve tissue close to the brain and spinal cord for a long time before possibly reactivating.
Though not life-threatening, shingles can be quite painful and trigger multiple other problematic effects, including:
- A red, blistering rash (usually wrapping around one side of the torso)
- Sensitivity, itching, burning, numbness, or tingling
- Light sensitivity
- And much more
On top of that, long-term effects may include skin infections, eye infections (that can result in vision loss), balance or hearing trouble, facial paralysis, encephalitis, and much more.
Who Is at Risk for Shingles?
There are a lot of risk factors, most commonly age. Shingles is most prevalent in those age 50 and older, with the possibility increasing as they age. In addition, those who meet the following criteria are also at an elevated risk for shingles:
- Having a compromised immune system as a result of a disease such as extreme stress, cancer, HIV/AIDS, or other condition
- Undergoing treatment that impacts the immune system, such as chemo or radiation
- Taking steroids or medicines that prevent a transplanted organ from being rejected
Is Shingles Preventable?
The good news is that a highly effective vaccine is accessible and encouraged for men and women 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 more than 90% effective in seniors.
Complications from Shingrix are minimal – much more tolerable as compared to effects of shingles itself. Typical symptoms include mild or moderate soreness in the arm, redness, and swelling at the injection site. Some other reported effects include nausea, fatigue, muscle pain, shivering, stomach pain, or fever. The side effects usually go away in about 2-3 days, and can be alleviated with over-the-counter medicines or as instructed by the doctor.
What Can I Do if I Already Have Shingles?
The doctor should always be consulted if you believe that you or someone you love has shingles, but especially if any of the following apply:
- The rash is anywhere around 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 Senior Care Can Help
- Providing transportation and accompaniment to doctors’ appointments and to receive the vaccine
- Monitoring for changes in condition so they can be reported and attended to right away
- Running errands, such as picking up groceries and prescriptions
- Preparation of nutritious meals and ensuring necessary hydration
- And more