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Jeff writes to The Doctors asking about his 88-year-old father’s shingles diagnosis. He shares a photo of his father, who has shingles on the upper left part of his face, including over his eye and part of his nose.
Dermatologist Dr. Sonia Batra explains that shingles are a reactivation of the same virus that causes chickenpox. Anyone who has ever had chickenpox has the virus living in the roots of their nerves. 30% of Americans will experience this reactivation.
Dr. Batra says when the immune system is good it is believed that the virus stays in check, but when immunity is down, possibly from sickness, stress, or often from getting older, cellular immunity doesn’t work as well. It always happens along one nerve route in one area or side manifesting in painful red rashes and blisters.
Jeff’s father, unfortunately, is a rarer case where 20-25% of the time the eye is involved. Tearing, blurred vision, pain in the eye and other eye problems occur. Anything around this area definitely needs to be evaluated by a doctor so that the patient can be put on an antiviral medication.
Many people wonder if shingles are contagious and they can be, but only to people who haven’t had chickenpox or been vaccinated. If you fall in that category, know that shingles are contagious until blisters crust over. There are FDA-approved shingles vaccinations for people over 50 as well as for those who have challenged cellular immunity.
ER Physician Dr. Travis Stork notes that it seems like people are getting shingles younger than they used to. He then shares his tale of being a young medical student misdiagnosing someone with cardiac chest pain who really had pain because of shingles. He shares this to point out that shingles can mascarade as something else early on.
Dr. Batra shares that even after the rash goes away, some people still experience pain along that same route. Findings show that going on antivirals will help avoid this as well as help with the pain caused by shingles.