I 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.
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.
From 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 ?