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Risk Factors and Treatment Options for Herpes Zoster (Shingles)

You’ve probably heard of shingles – this dormant creature hiding in your body thanks to that annoying case of chickenpox you had when you were a kid. Let’s peel back that layer of fear and talk about herpes zoster, also known as shingles.

What is Shingles?

Simply put, shingles is an infection in which the chickenpox virus is awakened in our systems, causing painful blisters and a rash. The varicella-zoster virus (the chickenpox virus) lies dormant inside the tissue of the nerves hanging around the nervous system. When a person has shingles, the virus gets a jump start and moves along the spinal cord and toward the brain. But before you panic, it’s necessary to remember that not everyone who has had the chickenpox will get shingles.

Will I Get Shingles?

Risk Factors

If you’ve ever had the chickenpox, you are at risk for developing shingles. However, there are some factors that put some people at more risk than others.

1) Age

Those older than 50 are more likely to develop shingles than younger adults. Why? First and foremost, older individuals are less likely to have ever received a chickenpox vaccination. That would mean that for 40-50 years, the varicella-zoster virus has remained dormant, waiting to be reactivated. Secondly, the older we get the weaker our immune system becomes, giving way to possible triggers that may reactivate the virus.

2) Medical History

Depending on your history with certain diseases, you may be at a greater risk. Specifically speaking, diseases that weaken your immune system may make you more prone to developing shingles. These diseases can include cancer, HIV/AIDS, or any autoimmune disease.

3) Use of Steroids

Using steroids can have a negative effect on the immune system if taken over a long period of time. This prolonged use leaves your body vulnerable to the reaction of shingles.


1) Zostavax and Shingrix

Zostavax and Shingrix are vaccines that work as preventative measures. Zostavax is a live vaccine administered via injection into the upper arm and is said to last for up to five years. An alternative is Shingrix. This injection lasts past the five-year mark. Shingrix is recommended for people ages 50 and up, while Zostavax is for individuals over 60. These vaccines are strictly preventative and cannot be used to treat shingles or its symptoms.

2) Antiviral Medications

Certain medications can speed up the healing progress of shingles. Acyclovir is one of those medications. Its purpose is to treat the outbreak of shingles and reduce the time it takes to heal. Taken orally, those suffering from shingles typically take it at the first sign of an outbreak. Overall, antiviral medication like this one tends to be highly effective in treating symptoms of shingles.

3) Pain Medications

Shingles is a severely painful disease. As the rash and blisters appear, the skin becomes sore to the touch. To battle the pain, doctors typically prescribe numbing medications and powerful narcotics. Be careful as some pain meds are habit-forming. When taken responsibility, however, these medications significantly reduce the effects of shingles.

There may be no cure for shingles, but armed with knowledge, you could be on the winning side of the short battle. Enlist the help of our experts at The Dermatology Group and begin your treatment as soon as possible. If you’re in the greater Ohio area, give us a call today!

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