The Links Between Shingles and Stress How To Avoid It

If you recall having chickenpox as a kid and remember how bothersome it was, chances are you will want to avoid getting shingles and the stress that comes with it. Caused by the same virus, varicella-zoster virus (VZV), shingles can occur later in life, if one has been exposed to the virus earlier in their lifetime. Once a person has chickenpox, the virus stays dormant in the body and can reemerge along nerve pathways many years later, causing shingles. It often occurs in adults over 50 and some will experience it more than once. As per the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the chances of developing shingles during your lifetime are 1 in 3.

Common symptoms include a painful rash on one side of the body or face. The rash will develop blisters that scab over within seven to ten days and then clear up after two to six weeks. Other symptoms include fever, headache, chills, and an upset stomach. Itching, tingling, and burning sensations are commonly experienced several days before the rash appears. Some will experience internal pain in the abdomen, heart, gall bladder, appendix, or kidneys. Your health professional can confirm a shingles diagnosis via a swab test.

H1 Title: The Shingles and Stress Connection

Having shingles can certainly cause stress, but is it caused by stress? Although many studies have been conducted to investigate any links between shingles and stress, the research has repeatedly been either contradictory or inconclusive. What we do know is this: stress certainly weakens the immune system. How? Stress triggers the “fight or flight” response within the body. Typically, this reaction arises as a result of imminent danger, such as a near car accident. The autonomic nervous system signals the release of adrenaline and the heart pumps the increased blood flow to the parts of the body needed to “fight” or “flee.” Our blood pressure goes up temporarily, and when the danger has passed, the adrenal glands stop producing adrenaline and we return to feeling a sense of normalcy.

Because modern-day stressors are a common fact of life and may be ongoing, our immune and cardiovascular systems become compromised over time. A weakened immune system can be a contributor to developing shingles, among other illnesses and diseases. Our immune systems also weaken naturally as we age, and explains why most healthy adults are susceptible to shingles beyond the age of 50.

The takeaway? Stress can be a contributing factor, although not a direct cause of shingles.

It also pays to be aware that certain medications and health conditions can act as risk factors for reactivating the virus. Prolonged use of steroids and certain medications used to treat autoimmune diseases like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn’s disease can contribute to the development of shingles, as well as autoimmune-suppressing medications or treatments used before or after organ transplants. Other immune-weakening treatments or conditions such as radiation, skin injuries, and HIV/AIDS may add to the risk of coming down with shingles, as well as having a relative that has suffered from it.

Are Shingles Contagious?

Transmission of the virus is low but direct contact with fluid from blisters can spread the virus to others. If this occurs, chances are the infected person will develop chickenpox if they’ve never been exposed to the virus. The best way to prevent infecting others is to avoid touching your rash, cover your wounds and wash your hands when you are done dressing your wounds. Avoid contact with pregnant women who haven’t had chickenpox, as well as infants, people with weakened immune systems, or those who are undergoing treatments that affect their immune systems.

What are the Complication Risks?

Long-term nerve pain, or postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), is the most common complication and affects 10 to 18 percent of shingles patients. The risk of postherpetic neuralgia increases with age, and the condition occurs in the area where the rash developed, possibly causing pain so severe it can interfere with your daily life. Other complications, albeit rare, include brain inflammation, facial paralysis, balance issues, pneumonia, hearing problems, and death. If sores occur near the eye, the condition can become a risk for vision loss.

How Can I Lower the Risk of Shingles?

Since we know that the development of shingles has everything to do with the strength of your immune system, the ideal way to decrease your risk is to boost your immune system. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle by getting enough sleep, exercise, and stress relief are the best ways to keep your immune system operating at an optimal level. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Your exercise routine should include 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week. Yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises are wonderful stress relievers and offer other significant health benefits. Spending time in nature is always an easy and effective way to deal with stress – a brisk daily walk outside can combine aerobic exercise and stress relief. It’s also important to learn how to identify your stress triggers as well as develop a healthy work/life balance. Any combination of these factors can weaken the shingles and stress relationship.

A diet rich in nutrients can also keep your immune system healthy. Eating foods that are high in zinc, magnesium, omega-3, and vitamins B and D3 are ideal for boosting immunity.

For the best protection against developing shingles, vaccines are recommended for adults over 50. Certain vaccines are considered up to 90% effective in preventing shingles and can be administered at your local pharmacy or physician’s office.

How are Shingles Treated?

Once you’ve been diagnosed, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medications that may provide relief and reduce the risk of complications. Alternatively, topical creams can be prescribed to numb the affected areas and reduce pain, while home remedies like soaking in an oat bath claim to relieve pain and itching.

When Should I See My Doctor?

If you suspect that you have shingles, you should confirm the diagnosis by visiting your physician, especially if you’re over 60, as it may reduce the risk of complications. It is highly recommended that you seek immediate treatment if you have sores near your eyes since untreated eye rashes can lead to permanent eye damage. Additionally, if you are experiencing widespread pain or pain that lasts for more than 30 days, see your doctor as soon as possible.

The team at Palm Beach Neurological Center, led by Dr. Michael Tuchman, offers expert and compassionate care to patients with a variety of neurological illnesses, including shingles. For over 30 years, Palm Beach Neurological Center has been at the forefront of the diagnosis, treatment, and research of neurological disorders and diseases. Reach us at (561) 694-1010.

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