Believe it or not, a painful rash on the torso might not be the worst symptom of shingles. According to new research, the number of older adults who get shingles in the eyes is on the rise. In some people, that can lead to permanent vision loss.
Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person has had chickenpox, the virus stays in the body but becomes dormant. Years later, it may reactivate and return as shingles, which often causes a blistery rash on the waist, chest, stomach or back. But shingles sometimes infects the eyes too. If it does, it can scar the cornea and even cause blindness.
In a study of 21 million U.S. adults, the number of people with shingles in the eyes tripled between 2004 and 2016. Women and people over 75 were the most likely to get shingles in the eyes. That’s not entirely surprising since shingles in general is primarily a disease that affects older adults. But researchers aren’t sure why women seem to face a greater risk.
According to the National Institutes of Health, anyone with shingles near or in the eye should see an eye doctor right away to help prevent vision loss.
The study was presented at the 2019 annual meeting of The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.
There’s a vaccine for that
The study underscores how important it is to get vaccinated against shingles, according to the research team. Two doses of the Shingrix vaccine are recommended for adults 50 and older. Even if you’ve already had shingles, the vaccine can help keep you from getting it again. There have been some shortages of Shingrix, but your doctor can tell you when it’s available in your area.
If you previously received the Zostavax vaccine, ask your doctor if you should get Shingrix as well, which may be more effective.
What are the first signs of shingles? Find out.
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