Older Adults_Bars-Geriatric Pain

FAST FACTS: Shingles



Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, affects approximately 1 in 3 adults in the US with about half of all cases affecting adults over the age of 60. The same virus that causes chickenpox also causes shingles. Unfortunately, exposure to chickenpox does not provide immunity to shingles. This painful virus presents on one side of the face or body causing a rash-like condition which raises, blisters, then scabs over and clears in a process that lasts anywhere from two to four weeks.  Pain along nerve endings, is a complication of shingles. The risk for this pain increases with age and causes moderate to severe pain that can last months or even years. 

  • Symptoms and Impact
    • Lesions are infectious until crusted over & dry
    • Individuals most at risk, have never had chicken pox or the varicella vaccine
    • Most commonly presents across the body trunk (along thoracic dermatomes), but does not cross the midline of the body
    • Other than rash, symptoms may include pain, itching, tingling, headache, light sensitivity, and fatigue
    • Complications such as scarring, muscle weakness, & skin infection may occur
    • Additional risk of hearing or vision loss may occur if rash is across face or head

  • Possible Interventions
    • Vaccination is the ONLY prevention and is recommended for adults 60 and older.
    • Non-Drug Treatments:
      • Distraction such as, reading, TV, music, pray, other activities, etc.
      • Warm Compress to affected area
    • Antiviral medications are used to shorten time of infection and intensity.
    • Analgesia for pain should be part of treatment such as:
      • Lidocaine skin patches
      • Tricyclic Antidepressants
      • Anticonvulsants
      • Opioids

  • What Caregivers can do to help their loved one with Shingles
    • Write down and share information about your loved one’s pain with their provider
    • Use a Pain Diary to note important information useful to the provider
    • Encourage your loved one to try a non-drug treatment to decrease minor pain

Revised 3/2020

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