“My mother has been complaining about pain for a few weeks from a rash she had. The rash is mostly gone, but she doesn’t seem to feel much better. I assumed it was heat rash because of the warmer temperatures, but now I don’t know what to think. I hate to put her through the hassle of going to the doctor for a disappearing rash. What do you think?”- Carrie from Conyers


A trip to the doctor is in order to diagnose and treat your mother’s discomfort. It does sound quite a bit like shingles, which affects many older Americans. At least fifty percent of people will experience shingles by the time they reach the age of eighty, although it can also affect younger adults, so it is a good idea to know more about it in case it happens to your mother again.

What Is Shingles?

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is the same virus that causes chicken pox. Most seniors probably had chicken pox when they were children because a vaccine had not yet been discovered. The virus remains dormant in their systems for decades until it reappears later in life. While no one event can trigger shingles, it seems to be more likely in people whose immune systems are weakened or who are under stress.

The virus can look like a bad case of poison ivy with some distinct differences. It does tend to present as an itchy, blistery rash, but it typically appears on one side of the body, across the cheekbones or along the trunk. The rash pattern may be due to a nerve inflammation, which would also explain the pain that accompanies it. Unfortunately, that pain can persist long after the blisters heal and can lead to trouble sleeping or even symptoms of depression.

In The Know

Knowledge is power when it comes to seniors with shingles. A few important things to remember are:

• The blisters can be contagious, so any infected seniors should avoid contact with other immune-compromised people as well as children and pregnant women. Shingles is, however, less contagious than chicken pox.
• Shingles can occur more than once, and there is evidence that it is becoming increasingly more common in the elderly.
• The most common complication is lingering pain, also called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). The pain can lasts for weeks or months after a flare-up of shingles. Shingles that affects the cheekbones may also cause eye or vision complications.
• Look out for symptoms of depression that may be associated with shingles. Seniors who exhibit mood or behavior changes can be experiencing persistent pain that impacts quality of life.

How About Some Good News?

Seniors with shingles have more options for relief than they did even a few years ago. Oral medications can lessen the severity and duration of a shingles episode, allowing relief to elderly people who may be in a lot of pain. Topical skin lotions or ointments containing lidocaine may also be prescribed. A vaccine is also available to reduce the chances of developing shingles, and it safe enough for seniors to receive more than once if needed.

In addition to anti-viral medication, there are also a few holistic remedies for PHN that may offer relief to seniors, which include:

• Acupuncture
• Supervised use of a TENS unit
• Relaxation therapy

Most cases of PHN resolve within a year, but if your mother’s discomfort persists, you can discuss additional treatment options with her doctor.

Hope your mother feels better soon!


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