- Pain, burning, tingling, or numbness
- Sensitivity to touch
- Fluid-filled blisters
- Mild itching
Some people with shingles also experience:
- Upset stomach
- Sensitivity to light
Causes of shingles in seniors
Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV) — the same virus that causes chickenpox. Anyone who has had chickenpox can develop shingles. After you recover from chickenpox, the inactive virus continues to live in some of your nerve cells. Eventually, it may reactivate and travel along nerve pathways to your skin, producing shingles. Most people who have the VZV virus never get shingles, but, for about one in three adults, the virus will reactivate. Science doesn’t completely understand what causes this reactivation, and there is no way of knowing who will get the disease. However, it’s more likely with:
- Advanced age – Fighting off infections becomes more difficult as we age. Some medical experts say that half the population 80 or older will get the shingles.
- A weak immune system – Age can negatively affect your immune system. So can cancer treatments, excessive sun exposure, and organ transplant drugs. Even stress or the common cold can weaken your immune system for a brief time.
If left untreated
If you suspect that your elderly loved one has shingles, you should consult a medical professional right away, especially if the pain and rash occur near an eye, as this can lead to permanent eye damage. Although there is no cure for shingles, an early treatment plan can ease the pain and help blisters dry up faster. It’s important to note, however, that shingles can be treated at home, and a hospital stay is rarely required. There are a number of things that seniors can do to feel better while they recover at home, including:
- Getting plenty of rest and eating well-balanced meals
- Applying a cold washcloth to the blisters to reduce the pain
- Avoiding stress, which can increase the pain
- Taking oatmeal baths or using calamine lotion to soothe the skin
- Wearing loose-fitting, natural-fiber clothing
While shingles is not contagious, you can catch chickenpox from someone who has shingles. So, to limit the spread of the virus, seniors should keep the rash covered, avoid touching it, and wash their hands often.