With a great deal of news surrounding the COVID-19 vaccinations, it is all too easy to lose focus on the other crucial vaccinations for older adults. But there is one in particular that warrants some time in the spotlight: the shingles vaccine.
What Is Shingles?
Shingles is an infection brought on by the same virus that triggers chickenpox. If a person has had chickenpox, they’re at risk for developing shingles later in life. This is because the virus remains dormant in nerve tissue close to the brain and spinal cord for many years before possibly reactivating.
While not life-threatening, shingles can be incredibly painful and result in numerous other complicated effects, including:
- A red, blistering rash (typically wrapping around one region of the torso)
- Numbness, sensitivity, burning, tingling, or itching
- Sensitivity to light
- And much more
Additionally, long-term effects range from skin infections, eye infections (that could lead to vision loss), to balance or hearing problems, facial paralysis, encephalitis, and others.
Who Is at Risk for Shingles?
There are a variety of risk factors, most commonly age. Shingles is most widespread in individuals 50 and over, with the possibility increasing throughout aging. In addition, those who meet the following criteria are also at an elevated risk for shingles:
- Immunocompromised caused by an illness like cancer, HIV/AIDS, or other condition
- Undergoing treatment that affects the immune system, including chemo or radiation
- Taking steroids or medicines that prevent a transplanted organ from being rejected
Can Seniors Take Steps to Prevent Shingles?
The good news is that a highly effective vaccine is available and recommended for men and women age 50 and older, and any person 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 – a lot more tolerable than the effects of shingles itself. The most common symptoms include mild or moderate discomfort 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 effects usually go away within 2-3 days, and may be alleviated with over-the-counter medications or as directed by the doctor.
What Can I Do if I Already Have Shingles?
The doctor should be consulted if you suspect that you or someone you love has shingles, but especially if any of the following apply:
- The rash is anywhere near the eyes
- The rash is widespread and painful
- You (or your loved one) are age 60 or older
- You (or your loved one) have a compromised immune system
How Aging Care Can Help
- Providing transportation and accompaniment to medical appointments and to obtain the vaccine
- Monitoring for changes in condition so they can be reported and addressed as soon as possible
- Running errands, such as picking up prescriptions and groceries
- Making healthy meals and ensuring adequate hydration
- And a lot more