Professional medical care for seniors with shingles
Shingles is a viral infection that affects the nerves and causes a painful rash. While anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk of getting shingles, the risk increases with age. In fact, about half of all shingles cases are in adults 60 and older. If a senior member of your family has shingles, you should consider medical treatment to ease your loved one’s discomfort and aid recovery. Fortunately, with DispatchHealth as the medical provider, treatment is fast, safe, and comprehensive. As mobile medical professionals who provide quality care for a range of health conditions, we can come to your family member’s residence within a couple of hours after you contact us. Skip the emergency room. Turn to DispatchHealth for convenient treatment that keeps your loved one comfortable in non-life-threatening situations.
If this is an emergency, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department.
Shingles symptoms & when to seek treatment
Shingles usually affects a small part of one side of the body or face. Typically, the rash develops in a band that goes around the torso. The most common signs and symptoms of shingles are:
- Pain, burning, tingling, or numbness
- Sensitivity to touch
- Fluid-filled blisters
- Mild itching
Some people with shingles also experience:
- Upset stomach
- Sensitivity to light
Pain is often the first symptom and can be intense. Depending on the location of the pain, it can be mistaken for a heart, lung, or kidney problem. Some people experience pain without ever developing the rash, while for others, symptoms are mild and involve only itching. Most cases of shingles last about three to five weeks.
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.
How to prevent shingles in seniors
Two vaccines may help prevent shingles in seniors: Zostavax and Shingrix. Zostavax, the older vaccine, has been shown to offer protection against shingles for about five years. It’s a live vaccine given as a single injection. Shingrix, which was approved by the FDA in 2017, is the preferred alternative to Zostavax. Studies suggest Shingrix offers protection against shingles beyond five years. Shingrix is recommended for people age 50 and older, including those who’ve previously received Zostavax. Zostavax isn’t recommended until age 60.
A nonliving vaccine, Shingrix is made of a virus component and is administered in two doses, two to six months apart. Seniors should get Shingrix even if they have already had shingles, received Zostavax, or don’t remember having had chickenpox. However, they should not get Shingrix if they have had a fever or illness, have a weakened immune system, or experienced an allergic reaction to the vaccine. If any of these apply to your elderly loved with the shingles, you should inform his or her doctor before scheduling the vaccine. Doctors’ offices and some pharmacies offer the shingles vaccine. All Medicare Part D plans and most private insurers will cover the cost.
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.
Help from mobile healthcare professionals
As we age, we may face challenges such as impaired mobility, worsening vision, or another health condition, which can hinder our ability to travel to a clinic for medical treatment. So, it’s good to know that DispatchHealth offers a more convenient alternative to facility-based care — in-home medical care. Our compassionate team of qualified medical providers understands that shingles can be extremely painful, so they will arrive promptly to treat your elderly loved one. Equipped with nearly all the tools and supplies found in an emergency room, we can administer or prescribe medication to ease your loved one’s pain. Plus, we ensure continuity of care by providing a detailed report to every patient’s primary care physician doctors. We are available 365 days a year and accept all major insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid. To request care for shingles, contact us via phone, app, or online.
Medically reviewed by Dr. Phil Mitchell MD, MS on October 3rd, 2019