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Shingles Symptoms: Triggered By A Weak Immune System?

Shingles Symptoms: Triggered By A Weak Immune System?

Shingles symptoms begin with an intense pain on the skin, this is the first sign that the Chicken Pox, or Varicella-Zoster virus, is about to recur. Shingles most often occur in older adults, and although the exact trigger or triggers are not known, one theory attributes the virus’ ability to rise out of the nerve tissue, where it resides after the Chicken Pox, into nerve endings along the skin, as (at least partially) the fault of a weakened immune system.

Indeed, newborns, pregnant women, those over 50, and those with a weakened immune system (from another disease like HIV or cancer, for example), are more likely to be susceptible to the Varicella-Zoster virus as well as complications from either the Chicken Pox or Shingles. If you develop Shingles, it may be a warning sign that your immune system is not at its full strength, and you may want to consider life-style adjustments that may help boost your immune system functions (one of the factors at play in the immune system theory is that people who develop Shingles are slightly more likely to later develop cancer). Ways to boost your immune system include eating healthy (those who ate more fresh fruits were less likely to develop Shingles, especially for those who were older eating lots of vegetables and making sure to get all the recommended nutrients–from a source like a multi-vitamin–reduced the chances of a Shingles outbreak), treating any other conditions you may have, and getting plenty of both exercise and rest. Rest is particularly important as stress, which can dampen your immune system, is also tied to Shingles outbreaks.

Shingles Symptoms:

  • Intense pain, usually around the torso, which may also feel numb or tingly, or like a burning sensation.
  • Pain may be followed by a rash that consists of pus-filled blisters. The tell-tale sign of a Shingles rash is for it to wrap around the torso like a belt (hence the name “zoster” which derives from a Greek word meaning “belt”). Blisters can appear anywhere, however, and complications may arise if they’re on the face/head (see below).
  • The blisters may itch–but do not scratch, you risk spreading the infection.
  • Because it’s technically an infection, you may experience related symptoms such as:
    • Fever and Chills
    • Fatigue or Aches

As the rash progresses, the herpes blisters will break and pus, then turn to scabs which will last 2-3 weeks. It is especially important to keep the site of the rash clean while the blisters are breaking, as the virus is highly contagious, not only to others who’ve never had Varicella-Zoster, but to other parts of your body, such as your ears, eyes, nose, and mouth–so wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your face. Clean with boiling water anything that you don’t want to throw away but have touched–to minimize what you touch, wrap a breathable bandage around the infected area and change it daily, or as needed if it’s particularly dirty. Remember that the elderly, newborns, pregnant women, and anyone with a weakened immune system are at an increased risk, and if they’ve never had chicken pox they could have serious complications. Once the blisters scab, you should no longer be contagious, and scarring is unlikely.

About a quarter of the people who get Shingles will have further complications. If blisters form around your ears or eyes, you are at risk for hearing and sight impairment or loss. If the rash occurs on your face it is important to begin treatment immediately to reduce the risk of these complications. Immediate treatment may also prevent other complications, which include nerve damage (which can lead to ongoing pain or loss of feeling, or in the face, paralysis), further infection (of the blood or brain), and a recurrence of Shingles.

There is no “cure” for Shingles, if symptoms are severe enough, doctors may try to treat them with pain killers, and sometimes with a huge load of anti-viral or anti-inflammatory medication. You may want to see a doctor if the pain is unbearable or there are blisters on or near your eyes. To ease symptoms at home, do what you did for the chicken pox: calamine lotion, cool compresses, and cool baths with starch or oatmeal. Anti-inflammatory foods like like walnuts and berries may help ease less severe symptoms. Keep your immune system strong by resting, eating right, and taking care of any other ailments competing with Shingles for your body’s attention–you may consider supplements for additional support.

There is a Shingles vaccine as well as a Chicken Pox vaccine, however, neither is a guarantee against getting shingles (shingles is a possible side-effect of the Chicken Pox vaccine). Both say that they will ease length and severity of Shingles symptoms. Note that neither is recommended for people with a weakened immune system. If you are in a position where there is high probability you will be exposed to the Varicella-Zoster virus, like working with children or in a hospital, then it may be worth considering vaccination. Otherwise, avoid contact with the virus, and keep your immune system strong.

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