Shingles is typically characterised by a blistering rash which is often extremely painful and can lead to long-term complications, in some.1,2 It is caused by the reactivation of the chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster virus)3 and is particularly more common in individuals ≥50 years old, those with a weakened immune system, existing chronic diseases (e.g. diabetes), and other risk factors.2,4
When to see the doctor
A study in Singapore found that nearly half of patients experienced pain that occurred 3-5 days before the skin eruption (blisters).5 If your loved one is at higher risk for shingles (e.g. ≥50 years old), watch out for complaints of abnormal sensations, like burning or prickling, over a specific area of the body. The more common sensations are pain and/or itching and they typically occur on one side of the body and rarely cross to the other side.1,3 The most common area is the torso or sometimes the face or neck.1
Some individuals might also complain of chills, fever, headache, upset stomach, light sensitivity and tiredness.1,6
It is important to consult the doctor quickly if you suspect your loved one might have shingles as early treatment works best to reduce the severity of the rash and acute (immediate) pain.7
How can you care for someone with shingles?
If a loved one has been diagnosed with shingles, in addition to prescribing treatments your doctor may discuss some self-care methods to help manage the disease, such as:6,8
- Ensure that they take the medications prescribed to treat shingles as instructed by the doctor
- Ensure that they do not scratch or pick at the blisters as it can lead to infection and scarring
- Put a cool, wet cloth over the blistered area to help relieve some of the pain and itching
- Get them to wear loose-fitting, natural-fibre clothing
- Avoid using thick ointments to cover the sores as it will prevent drying and healing
- Get them to have plenty of rest and try to reduce their stress
- Prepare and encourage them to have well-balanced meals
When to seek medical support during shingles
Watch out for the warning signs below while taking care of someone who has already been diagnosed with shingles by their doctor.8
- They develop a new fever or the fever becomes higher
- Presence of a severe headache and stiff neck
- If they lose the ability to think clearly
- The shingles spreads from the neck to the face, particularly the nose or eyes
- They complain of worse vision
- If they are unable to move the muscles of the affected area
- You notice that the blisters have spread to new parts of the body
- If the pain is not reducing even with the pain medications prescribed
If you notice any of the above, contact their doctor to seek advice and further treatment.
Find out if your loved one is at risk for shingles
- Harpaz R et al. MMWR Recomm Rep 2008;57:1-30; quiz CE2-4.
- Chen L-K, et al. BMC Infect Dis. 2017; 17:213. doi: 10.1186/s12879-017-2198-y.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Herpes Zoster (Shingles). Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/hcp/clinical-overview.html. Accessed May 2022.
- Marra F, et al. Open Forum Infect Dis. 2020;7(1):ofaa005. doi: 10.1093/ofid/ofaa005.
- Goh C-L, Khoo L. Int J Dermatol. 1997; 36:667-672.
- National Institutes of Health (US), National Institute on Aging. Shingles. Available at: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/shingles. Accessed May 2022.
- Johnson RW, et al. BMC Medicine. 2010;8:37. doi: 10.1186/1741-7015-8-37.
- MyHealth.Alberta.ca. Shingles: Care instructions. Available at: https://myhealth.alberta.ca/Health/aftercareinformation/pages/conditions.aspx?hwid=uh3267. Accessed May 2022.
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