The Best Reason Why You Should Get the Shingles Vaccine

Top reason to get the shingles vaccine? It's true that shingles is not usually life-threatening, but the shingles rash generally causes a burning pain that can last for weeks – or even months.

“Shingles is not something that will kill you, but it is extremely painful and debilitating," says internal medicine specialist George Topalsky, MD. "Even though the rash lasts for weeks, some pain and discomfort can continue for years.”

About one in three people in the United States will get shingles. The virus that causes chicken pox is the same one that develops into shingles, and the virus can lie dormant in your nerve endings for years.

Usually, shingles attacks people older than age 60, but it can happen at any age – particularly when your immune system is compromised.

And, you can get shingles even if you never had chicken pox.

Who Should Get the Shingles Vaccine

The shingles vaccine reduces your risk of developing shingles.

“I think it’s a good idea to be vaccinated after the age of 50, especially if you have had chicken pox,” Dr. Topalsky says.

The vaccine, he says, doesn’t reduce pain or combat an existing case. But it can reduce the chance of getting shingles by more than 70 percent.

Because shingles can reoccur, Dr. Topalsky recommends getting vaccinated even if you already have had the disease.

How Shingles is Diagnosed

You might feel shingles before you see it, Dr. Topalsky says. But once the rash appears, it's time to see a doctor. Shingles can't be diagnosed without a doctor seeing a rash, he says.

“Once a rash appears, you should see a doctor to confirm that it is shingles and to get started on treatment," he says.

Shingles on the face, especially near the eyes, can be particularly dangerous, Dr. Topalsky says.

"It can scar the cornea of the eye and cause blindness, so we consult with an opthamologist to help with treatment of patients who have a facial rash.”

Once shingles starts, an anti-viral medication can reduce the exposure time by about half. Meanwhile, pain medications – including corticosteroids – can help to alleviate the suffering.

“The oral medication is available by prescription and is taken for a week after the rash is noticed,” Dr. Topalsky says.

George Topalsky, MD is an internal medicine specialist at University Hospitals Independence Health Center. You can request an appointment with Dr. Topalsky or any University Hospitals doctor online.

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