With a great deal of press about the COVID-19 vaccines, it is easy to lose focus on the other important vaccinations for older adults. But there is one specifically that deserves some time in the spotlight: the shingles vaccine.
What Is Shingles?
Shingles is an infection caused by the exact same virus that triggers chickenpox. If a person has had chickenpox, they’re at an increased risk for developing shingles later on. It is because the virus can sit dormant in nerve tissue near the brain and spinal cord for many years before potentially reactivating.
While not life-threatening, shingles can be very painful and lead to numerous other problematic effects, such as:
- A red, blistering rash (commonly wrapping around one side of the torso)
- Sensitivity, itching, burning, numbness, or tingling
- Sensitivity to light
- And much more
Additionally, long-lasting impacts may include skin infections, eye infections (that can result in loss of vision), stability or hearing issues, facial paralysis, encephalitis, and others.
Who Is at Risk for Shingles?
There are a variety of risk factors, most commonly age. Shingles is most common in people age 50 and older, with the possibility increasing throughout aging. Additionally, people who meet the following criteria are also at an increased risk for shingles:
- Having a compromised immune system caused by a disease such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, or any other condition
- In the process of treatment that affects the immune system, including chemotherapy or radiation
- Taking steroids or medicines that prevent a transplanted organ from being rejected
Is Avoiding Shingles Possible?
The good news is that an effective vaccine is accessible and recommended for men and women age 50 and older, and anyone age 19 and older with a compromised immune system. The CDC endorses the Shingrix vaccine, a 2-dose injection that is higher than 90% effective in seniors .
Side effects from Shingrix are minimal – much more bearable compared to the effects of shingles itself. The typical symptoms include mild or moderate discomfort in the arm, redness, and swelling at the injection site. Some other recorded side effects include nausea, fatigue, muscle pain, shivering, stomach pain, or fever. The side effects commonly go away in about 2-3 days, and can be alleviated with over-the-counter medicines or as instructed by the doctor.
What Do I Need to Do if I Already Have Shingles?
Your physician should be conferred with if you believe 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 painful and widespread
- You (or your loved one) are over the age of 60
- You (or your loved one) have a compromised immune system
How Senior Care Can Help
- Providing transportation and accompaniment to medical visits and to get the vaccine
- Monitoring for changes in condition so they can be reported and addressed as soon as possible
- Errand-running, including picking up groceries and prescriptions
- Making healthy meals and ensuring sufficient hydration
- And a lot more