How to Survive a Summer Shingles Attack

shingles treatmentI was sailing through summer vacation minding my own business, staying out of trouble, then it hit like a tsunami – shingles attacked my spine. Shingles? What me ? I thought only old people got shingles. Well hello, reality check, I am old.

Consequently, I have been off-line and out of commission. Everyone over the age of 50 has a shingles tale to tell. With me, it started feeling like the inside of my left arm was sun burnt and bruised, then came the shooting pains down my arm and into my rib cage. But the worst symptom was upper back pain so excruciating, I thought I had herniated a spinal disk. For five nights, when pain woke me, I took Tylenol 3 and slept on an ice pack.

When I explained the throbbing, burning pain and phantom itching to my daughter, a doctor, she immediately suspected shingles, but the telltale rash didn’t appear until several days later. Fortunately my outbreak was under my arm and not near my face because shingles around the eye can cause vision loss.

Remember those awful chicken pox you had as a child ? Well, they can come back to haunt you in the form of a nasty, strip of blisters that appears only on one side of your torso or face. Once infected the varicella-zoster virus lies inactive in nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain. Shingles affects nerve roots causing burning, itching, throbbing pain, headache, and blistering skin. Due to a weakened immune system or stress, the virus can reactivate.

Each of the nerve roots that supply sensation to your skin run in predictable pathways on each side of your body called dermatomes. Shingles usually affect a single dermatome. In my case, pain stemming from the C8 dermatome shot across my left shoulder-blade, down the arm and into my left pinky and ring finger.shingles attack

I am not a specialist but after my own personal experience here is what I recommend.

  • Call your doctor as soon as you suspect shingles.
  • Get on an antiviral – acyclovir, valacyclovir, famciclovir -which can reduce the pain and duration.
  • Stock up on calamine lotion, creams containing capsaisin or lidocaine, or topical antibiotics
  • Try ice packs, baking soda pastes and other home remedies to ease the itching and burning.
  • This is no time to gallantly suffer in silence – take a pain-killer.
  • Better yet, get vaccinated. Zostavax is recommended for people age 60 and over.

shingles vaccineFrom the fluish fatigue, to raging pain, to constant discomfort, shingles is no fun. Hopefully I won’t develop postherpetic neuralgia, which causes the lingering pain long after the blisters disappear due to damaged nerve fibers that send exaggerated messages of pain from your skin to your brain.

Alas, misery loves company. Do tell. Have a shingles horror story you’d like to share ?


Posted in health.


  1. I wondered where you were, Pat I missed you! So sorry to hearing of your bout with Shingles. I’ve never experienced it myself but saw plenty of cases in Family Practice. It’s a sneaky dickens, often times mimicking other ailments like heart attacks or appendicitis. So glad you had Dr Nat to the rescue so you could receive proper treatment.

    • A sneaky dickens is right, Kathy. If my daughter hadn’t suspected shingles, I might have wound up in ER thinking I was having a heart attack. The shooting pains and burning were so bizarre, but the throbbing upper back was the worst. Hard to imagine that something as common as childhood chicken pox could come back with such a vengeance.

  2. Ok, the first time I had shingles was about ten years ago, I was lying in bed on a Sunday morning and felt a weird burning, itching sensation above my left eye. I thought it was a spider bite. It kept getting worse, spreading around my eye and up into the hairline. Felt like a million little pins were sticking me. I called 62nurse, which was still in service at the time. The doctor on call called back immediately and told me to get to the ER. After a quick diagnosis of shingles, I was given meds, sent home and told to see my own doctor the next day. The pain Meds made me puke and therefore didn’t really help. I tried to go to school the next day but that didn’t work. They seemed to last forever. But after a couple of weeks finally subsided. I got the shot and have had them twice since then, both times on my back. Not as bad and didn’t last as long. My daughter, Nicci, has been getting them since she was about 30. She’s on constant pain meds and her doctor won’t give her the shot until she’s 45. Such fun good luck

    • Oh Pat, what a horror story for both you and Nicci. I am glad the shingles around your eye did not affect your vision. It is discouraging to think that you can get shingles more than once and even after the vaccination. Poor Nicci. Does she know what triggers the outbreaks? It is such a miserable illness. I hope that both you and Nicci can avoid more outbreaks. Thanks for sharing your story.

  3. I’ve had them, and remember the pain and confusion as they settled in to my waist and back. So grateful they didn’t climb up my face. Painful, itchy/ painful, but heavens, don’t scratch. Sort of mindboggling and a distraction from work and life in general. Hope you’re better soon. Saw pictures at the lake… What a fun place to create new memories for young ones!

    • Oh Amy, so sorry you had to go through this. Luckily for me the meds keep the pain at bay and good, old fashioned calamine lotion calms the itching. I also find jumping in a cold lake to be very soothing. I suppose if I have to be sick, this slice of heaven is the best place to heal.

  4. Poor you Pat. Shingles is such an unpleasant disease… my brother and sister have had it over the last few years. Fortunately, I have not been attacked – touch wood ????. My sister has an auto-immune disease so shingles, for her, was particularly nasty. It seems that the body is constantly under attack at times. How we survive as long as we do with all these illnesses is thanks to good nutrition and the wonders of modern science. Most of us would be dead and gone by around 40 just a hundred and fifty years ago. Now there’s a thought… how society would change. Pension plans might start at 30! Lots of love and healing hugs to you xxx

    • Oh Rach thanks so much for sharing. Makes me feel connected like I have one foot Down Under. I wonder if like your sister I am more susceptible because my immune system is weaker. Do they have the shingles vaccination for people in Australia or in the UK?

  5. Poor Pat — I wondered where you’d been and figured you were just having a marvelous summer. Sorry I was wrong!

    My mom had Shingles, like you, across her upper back. She said the pain and itching were horrid, even though she’d had the shot. She was told her case would have been much worse had she not had the shot.

    I wonder if anybody has researched to determine whether folks who get Shingles are the ones who had the worst cases of chicken pox or the ones with the light cases.

    • That is an interesting question. From what I have read shingles seem to strike anyone, any age although it is usually older people that get them. Like your mom’s case I keep hearing of more people that get shingles even after the vaccination. Looking forward to reading your book as soon as it comes out.

    • I hope that vaccination saves you from the pain, Lynne. I am not sure if they have the shingles vaccination in our part of Europe. I know my daughter reminded me that at the time she was growing up in France, they did not vaccinate children against the chicken pox. Always interesting the ways different countries prevent or treat the same illnesses.

  6. So sorry to hear about this, Pat. If it isn’t one thing, it’s another, eh? You are such a testament to your stalwart Norwegian ancestors. Heal quickly and without the post-herpetic pain. Ugh! I insisted on having my shingles shot before turning 60. I had to pay 100% of it but I felt it was worth it. Now, after reading these posts, I’m worried that I could not only still get it, but get it several times!!! Take care, my friend.

    • Ah yes, I often think of my stalwart Norwegian ancestors and it gives me strength. I thought if you got the vaccination, you wouldn’t get shingles, but from people’s comments that appears to be false, but at least maybe it gives one a sense of security and the outbreak will be milder. Next time you are on your beloved court be sure to knock down a three for me!

  7. Oh noooo, Pat! I haven’t had the dreaded shingles myself, but I have heard how terribly painful it is. I hope you are safely on the mend by now and feeling much better.

  8. Thanks for sharing this, Pat. I’m so sorry you had to go through it and hope you are feeling much better now. I’m 43 and this is one thing I’m definitely not looking forward to.

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