I went to my doctor recently with six or seven red welts on my hip that I suspected were spider bites. (Thank you to my brother for putting that horrific thought into my head.) I also wondered if I could be allergic to my new jeans — specifically the dark wash that was dying my skin blue. My husband helpfully suggested the hives could be from “tight pants and all the rubbing.” He paid handsomely for that comment.
I assumed that when I lifted my shirt to expose the unsightly rash on my side muffin that my doctor would say, "That? Oh that's nothing. Just dry skin. Be on your way you adorable little hypochondriac."
Imagine my surprise when she told me I had SHINGLES!
"Are you kidding me?" I gasped. "What am I eighty?!"
Turns out my indignation was misplaced. The shingles virus is not exclusive to the elderly and infirm. Upon announcing my affliction on Facebook, as one does, I was surprised to find out how many of my young-ish peers have also suffered from this painful ailment.
One friend told me when she experienced shingles in her thirties the row of sores across her forehead earned her the charming nickname of, "Roof." Several other girlfriends, a neighbour, my mum, and the lady that clips my dog’s nails also shared that they suffered from shingles in their 30s or 40s. It’s nice to know you’re not the only one because nobody wants to be...shingled out. Sorry. Had to.
Anybody who's ever had chickenpox can get shingles. Even though it is more common in older people, shingles can develop at an earlier age. My nephew had it when he was only 11. A lesion near his eye was cause for concern. Shingles on the eye itself is called Herpes Zoster Ophthalmicus, and it can cause scarring that can lead to vision loss. If you have sores near your eye, follow up with your doctor ASAP.
My daughter had shingles at the tender age of five. Poor kiddo had welts all over the right side of her face and chest. She'd never had true chickenpox, but did develop a few pox after getting the vaccine. If your child is acting out of sorts and has what looks like hives on one side of their body, have them examined because it could be shingles.
First you have to have had chickenpox. After you recover, the virus goes dormant and it may remain asleep in your nerve roots undisturbed forever. But in some people the virus wakes up when stress, illness, aging, certain drugs, or possibly a curse, weakens the immune system. When the virus wakes up it's no longer chickenpox. Instead it takes the form of chickenpox's ugly older sister, Shelley Shingles.
I hope you never have the opportunity to meet her because frankly, Shelley is a real pain in the ass (or hip, or face, or torso...).
Will you get shingles? Possibly. One in three North Americans will get shingles in their lifetime.
Caught early enough, oral antiviral medications can shorten the course of the infection and reduce the chances of possible long-term complications like PHN (severe and lingering pain along affected nerves).
Warning: The antivirals are BIG. I didn't know whether to swallow them or insert them.
If you have questions or concerns about shingles, please talk to a real doctor. I'm not a medical professional (which will become abundantly clear when you read my infographic below). However, I've been on the front lines and hopefully sharing my experience will, at the very least, make you aware of the the precursor symptoms so you get to the doctor faster. Treatment within 72 hours has been shown to minimize the extent and spread of the rash and lessen pain. As well, antivirals may help reduce the risk of developing chronic pain afterwards.
One final word of advice — something your doctor will not tell you — when you're at the pharmacy picking up your antiviral medication, also pick up a can or two of Pringles. No, they won't help you heal faster. But, the salt and the fact that you can call them your "Shingles Pringles" is a golden opportunity not to be missed.