Recurring Shingles

When the immune system is compromised, patients who have previously had shingles are at an increased risk of developing it once again, in which case, this is known as recurring shingles.

What are recurring shingles?

Shingles is caused by the same virus responsible for chickenpox – it is the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). The virus does not go away after you get chickenpox the first time.

After getting chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in the sensory nervous system – and can reboot in later years as shingles or herpes zoster. In some patients, shingles can be rebooted more than once – and this is known as recurring shingles.

Causes of recurring shingles

In the past, most people assumed shingles was a one-time event. Though rare, we now know that shingles can strike a second or third time. In this event, the condition would be called “recurring shingles”.

Individuals who have a weakened immune system are generally more susceptible to getting recurring shingles. For a healthy person, however, the odds of getting recurrent shingles is lower – especially in the first seven years after the first episode. After this timeframe, the probability goes up by around 5%.

Risk factors for recurring shingles

Doctors evaluate several variables to determine at-risk patients.

When it comes to recurring shingles, these risk factors involve:

1. Women – this demographic is more at risk of recurring shingles.

2. Seniors with shingles – Patients who had their first episode of shingles after the age of 50 are more inclined to get recurring shingles compared to younger patients.

3. Immune-suppressed patients – patients who are diagnosed with autoimmune diseases are additionally more at risk. Some examples include patients who have been diagnosed with HIV or leukemia.

4. Medications – if you currently take medications that suppress the immune system, recurring shingles may be on the cards for you – if you do not seek preventative treatments available.

5. Severe first-time shingles patients – Medical researchers conclude that first-time shingles patients who had severe symptoms lasting more than a month are more inclined to get shingles a second time.

Symptoms of recurring shingles

One of the main telltale signs of shingles (both first time and recurring episodes) is a band of painful and blistering rashes.

Some other symptoms associated with this condition include:

  • Pre-symptoms including a tingling or itching sensation
  • Body aches
  • Nausea
  • Body temperature fluctuations, including fevers and/or chills
  • A headache

When the virus is reactivated, shingles patients normally notice a rash. In subsequent cases, patients may experience rashes or pain in another region of the body that wasn’t previously affected.

For example, if the first bout of shingles plagued the upper left torso, in the second round, it will most likely affect the other side – or other areas of the body. Every patient, however, is different.

Preventative treatments for recurring shingles

Going through shingles is a painful ordeal and most patients would agree that they’d never want to experience it another time. Fortunately, there are preventative treatments available with a high success rating.

About the shingles vaccine

The shingles vaccine, Shingrix, is the gold standard for preventing first-time and recurring shingles. For the most part, it has replaced the once favored Zostavax due to its efficiency.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a double dose of this vaccine – with each one spread out between 8-24 weeks. The vaccine is available at many local pharmacies as well in doctors’ offices. It is generally administered in the upper arm region.

Facts about Shingrix for recurring shingles

Shingrix is also beneficial for preventing postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) – a secondary symptom and common complication of shingles.

It’s up to 90% effective at preventing first-time and recurring shingles – and PHN.

What you need to know – and who should get Shingrix?

The CDC recommends this medicine for:

  • Patients who have had chickenpox – and those who are unsure
  • Patients with a past episode of shingles
  • Patients who have previously received Zostavax
  • Patients who are more than 50 years of age

Note for patients over 40 years of age:

If you are older than 40 years old but don’t remember getting chickenpox, it may still be in your best interest to ask your doctor about the shingles vaccine. This is because studies indicate that approximately 99% of all citizens over the age of 40 had chickenpox at some time in their lives.

Protocols for recurrent shingles vaccination

To protect the health of patients, the following precautions have been listed for the shingles vaccine, Shingrix®:

  • Pregnant and nursing mothers should not take Shingrix®. If you plan on becoming pregnant, do not take Shingrix.
  • Patients with a weak immune system due to medications or an underlying illness should seek the advice of a medical specialist before taking Shingrix®.
  • If you have a history of allergies or have had an adverse reaction to any type of vaccine, do not take Shingrix® without first advising your medical provider or pharmacist.
  • If you had the Varicella Test, which measures your immunity to chickenpox, and failed, the varicella vaccine is recommended vs. Shingrix.

How to treat recurring shingles

If you do get recurring shingles, visit your doctor right away. Many patients take a wait-and-see approach – and question whether medical intervention is even necessary.

It is – and here’s why:

1. Faster recovery – Antivirals and other prescription medicines are generally prescribed, which aid in speedier recovery and less pain and suffering for patients.
2. Lowering the risk of serious complications – In severe cases, shingles may lead to hearing and vision problems, especially when it appears in the facial region. It’s therefore important to get treated by a medical specialist as soon as you notice symptoms.

To properly treat recurring shingles, viral cultures are tested to confirm that it is indeed the herpes zoster virus – as the symptoms can be mistaken for other conditions, such as herpes simplex for example.

Some illustrations of antiviral medicines prescribed for recurring shingles include:

  • Acyclovir
  • Famciclovir
  • Valacyclovir

At home remedies

Your doctor may also suggest the following home remedies to aid with itch and pain relief:

  • Soaking in a warm oatmeal bath
  • Applying a wet compress to the affected area/s
  • Gently rubbing calamine lotion on the affected skin area/s