Shingles in the Elderly

Shingles is a viral infection, also known as Herpes Zoster, that usually affects older people.  Chickenpox and Shingles are both caused by this virus.  Once you have had Chickenpox, the virus lays dormant in nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain.  Even years after having Chickenpox, it can reactivate and cause Shingles.

Elderly people are more susceptible to Shingles because they have a weakened immune system and therefore have a harder time fighting off infection.  A bout of Shingles is more dangerous for the elderly as they are more likely to experience long-term effects, severe symptoms and complications.  There has been an increase in cases in some parts of Australia since around Mid 2024, and certainly an higher demand for a Shingles Vaccine.


What are the symptoms?

For some people, the symptoms are mild, whereas for others the pain can be intense.

Shingles typically develop on only one side of the body or face in a small area, symptoms include:

  • Burning, tingling, or numbness of the skin.
  • Feeling unwell – chills, fever, upset stomach or headache.
  • Skin that is sensitive to touch.
  • Sensitivity.
  • Mild itching to strong pain.
  • Fluid-filled blisters.
  • Vision problems.
  • Hearing issues.
  • Hiccups


The Stages of Shingles

Shingles usually lasts from three to five weeks.  It begins with burning or tingling pain, numbness or itching on one side of the body.  Between days one and five a red rash will appear, a few days later the rash turns into fluid-filled blisters.  Seven to ten days later the blisters dry and crust over.  It then typically takes a few weeks for the scabs to clear.  If the rash becomes infected, a complete recovery can take longer.


Long Term Effects

Once the rash leaves, a condition called Postherpetic Neuralgia or PHN may occur.  This is long term nerve pain where the rash was located.  This can last for months or even years, making recovery challenging.  PHN pain can also cause weight loss, sleeplessness as well as depression and anxiety.  The infection can also result in scarring.  Some research also shows an increased risk of heart attack or stroke for those elders that have had a case of Shingles.



Whilst there is no cure for Shingles, there are antiviral treatments that can help shorten a Shingles infection and lessen the severity of the pain and rash.  You definitely need to see a Doctor if you suspect you may have Shingles, as once you see a rash, a treatment plan can be implemented, with early intervention key to your recovery.

There is also a Shingles preventative vaccine available to people over 50, but you need to check with your Doctor to see if you are eligible.


Tips for Recovery

  • Rest and eat well balanced meals.
  • Avoid stress, it can make the pain worse.
  • Try walking and stretching exercises (under supervision).
  • Wear loose fitting clothing.
  • Apply a cool face washer to the blisters.
  • Keep the rash covered, don’t scratch, and wash your hands often.

Most people will only experience one case of Shingles in their lifetime.  Shingles is not contagious and cannot be passed on to another person, but the virus itself can.  So, someone in close contact could develop Chicken Pox as opposed to the Shingles infection.


Some of our residents have had a case of Shingles but have fully recovered to enjoy participating again in activities and excursions offered at our homes.  If you would like more details, or to visit one of our homes, please call us on 1300 104 663 or email us here.


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