Who wouldn’t want to avoid pain that could last months — or even years?
You may still remember getting chickenpox as a kid and how uncomfortable you were, but trust us, not as uncomfortable as getting a bout of shingles. You may know someone who has suffered from shingles, a painful viral rash that’s caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. According to the Mayo Clinic, “After you’ve had chickenpox, the virus lies inactive in nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain. Years later, the virus may reactivate as shingles.”
The first sign of shingles may seem relatively benign, maybe a little itch on one part of your body. But after a few days, that mild itch blossoms into a rash of fluid-filled blisters (similar to chickenpox). The rash can be accompanied by a whole host of unpleasant symptoms, including headache, chills, upset stomach and debilitating pain. According to the National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke, “Some people have mostly itching; some feel pain from the gentlest touch or breeze.” In the worst cases, long-lasting nerve damage — a condition that’s called postherpetic neuralgia — causes severe pain for weeks, months or years. Unfortunately, conventional painkillers usually don’t help much.
The risk for getting shingles goes up with age, putting seniors at the greatest risk — about half of the people who get it are 60 or older. (About 1 in 5 people have shingles at some time in their life.)
So what can you do to avoid it? There is a vaccine that helps to protect against shingles. While it will not prevent it completely, the vaccine does lower your risk and it will usually lessen the severity of the symptoms. According to Harvard Health, you cut the risk of postherpetic neuralgia by 66 percent.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which establishes the vaccine policy for Americans, says if you’re aged 60 or older you should get the shot, even if you’ve already had shingles. All Medicare Part D plans cover the shingles vaccine. The downside is that If your insurance doesn’t cover the vaccination, it can be expensive; usually between $195 and $250. But for many people, rolling up their sleeves and getting a single shot in the arm is worth avoiding the potential prolonged pain associated with shingles.