Shingles is no fun, as anyone who has had this painful skin rash knows. So if you have COPD, take note. Researchers reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that shingles occurs more often in people with COPD. Chronic inflammation and immune system changes that occur in COPD might make it easier for the virus that causes shingles to become active.
So how can you cope with this distressing illness? Here’s what you need to know.
What Is Shingles?
A. Shingles is a skin rash with painful blisters. It is also called herpes zoster. Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox. After a person gets chicken pox, the virus remains inside certain nerves, quietly hiding. Years later, it can become active again, causing shingles.
What Are the Symptoms?
A. The first sign is a tingling, burning, or itching feeling on one side of the body. After several days or weeks, painful, fluid-filled blisters appear. The pain can be mild or severe. Some people also have abdominal pain, fever, chills, or headache. The rash usually clears up within two to three weeks. But some people develop severe pain in the area where shingles occurred that lasts for months or years.
How Is Shingles Treated?
A. If you have any symptoms of shingles, call your doctor right away. If caught before or shortly after blisters appear, shingles can be treated with antiviral medicine. Moist, cool compresses, calamine lotion, and oatmeal baths can soothe itching and pain.
Who’s at Risk?
A. About one in three people develops shingles at some point. Half of the time, the condition occurs in people ages 60 and older. But people of any age with COPD or a weakened immune system also are at risk.
Can I Lower My Risk?
A. For people ages 60 and older, a one-time shingles vaccination can lower your chances of getting this painful condition. But people who take steroids, which can affect the immune system, should not be vaccinated. Ask your doctor if a vaccination is right for you.
Want to learn more about the symptoms and treatment of shingles or see photos of a shingles rash? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more information at www.cdc.gov/shingles/index.html.