shingles in the elderly | Medicare Plan Finder

Shingles in the Elderly: Signs & Prevention

Kelsey Davis Fitness & Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one-third of people in the United States will develop shingles at some point in their life. The risk of developing shingles increases as you age and is more likely in those who have had the chickenpox (Varicella) virus. Prepare yourself now by learning everything you need to know about shingles in the elderly.

Shingles Complications

Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus and results in painful blisters on your body. This is the same virus that causes chickenpox. If you had chickenpox, the virus remains inactive in nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain. Years later, this virus can reactivate as shingles. What causes the dormant virus to reactivate? The exact reason is unclear, but researchers suggest that weakened immune systems, certain diseases such as HIV/AIDS or cancer, radiation, chemotherapy, and certain medications, like steroids, can contribute to the development.

Shingles can result in severe complications, the most common being postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). Those with PHN continue to have pain on the surface of their skin even after the blisters have subsided. PHN can take weeks, months, or even years to resolve. Other shingles complications include vision loss, facial paralysis, balance problems, and bacterial skin infections.

How long does shingles last in the elderly?

The average case of shingles lasts between three to five weeks. According to the National Institute on Aging, shingles follows a pattern. The first sign of shingles is often an itching or burning sensation on the side of the body. About one to five days later, a red rash will start to develop. A few days after that, the rash will turn into blisters. These blisters will last for roughly ten days before drying up and scabbing. Within a couple of weeks, the scabs should clear up. In some cases, shingles can then lead to other conditions (like PHN, mentioned above) that can last longer, but the shingles virus should clear up after about five weeks. Most people only get shingles one time, if at all, but it is possible to develop shingles more than once.

Shingles in the Elderly Symptoms

There is no cure for shingles, but early treatment can help fight the virus and limit the amount of pain you have. It’s important to understand the symptoms so you can talk to your doctor as soon as possible. Common shingles in the elderly symptoms include:

  • Burning, itching, or numbing area on the skin
  • Skin sensitivity
  • Itching
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Light sensitivity
  • Fatigue

Is shingles contagious to the elderly?

No. Shingles itself cannot be passed from one person to another. However, the virus that causes shingles can be spread through direct contact with the fluid from the blisters. A person with shingles is only contagious during the blistering phase. However, only those who have not had the chickenpox can contract the virus this way, and they would develop chickenpox as a result. Those who had chickenpox previously actually already have the virus, though it is inactive! If a person who has had chickenpox develops shingles, it will most likely be from the virus that is already in the body, not through contact with someone else who has shingles.

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Shingles in the Elderly Prevention

Preventing shingles can be difficult, especially since those who have had chickenpox already have the virus in their body! However, there is a vaccine that can drastically lower your risk of developing shingles. The vaccine is recommended for those over the age of 50 and it comes in two doses. The second dose should be administered between two to six months after the first. The shot doesn’t completely eliminate your risk for shingles, but it lowers your risk and can reduce the severity of the virus if it does surface.

Original Medicare (Part A and B) does not cover the shingles vaccine. However, a Medicare Advantage or Part D plan may cover it! These plans are great options that include coverage beyond Original Medicare and help you live the healthiest life possible! Our agents can help you understand all of your plan options and enroll you in a plan that fits your specific needs and budget. If you interested in arranging a no-cost, no-obligation appointment, fill out this form or call at us 833-438-3676.


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