It’s a familiar feeling – you go to bed feeling fine and then wake up in the morning with a head cold. But what isn’t familiar, is waking up with a sharp pain that feels like shocks shooting through your body.
When I was studying for my final school exams as a teenager, I woke up one morning with blisters all over my hands. I was scared, but I soon learned that it was an outbreak of shingles. The typical symptoms of shingles include a painful rash in one area or side of the body, that blisters and scabs over. Other symptoms may also include sensitivity to light, headache, and a sense of not feeling well.
Studying for your final school exams is hard enough – just ask this year’s school-leavers – but doing it with painful, itchy blisters on your hands is even harder.
Shingles is a disease that many of us have heard of, but not many of us understand. If you’ve had a conversation with a friend or family member they’d probably tell you that it was a disease that mainly affects old people.
But the reality is that shingles is caused by the reactivation of the chickenpox virus in adulthood. This can happen at any age but is most common in those over the age of 50. I was surprised to learn that as we age, particularly after 50, our immune system naturally declines. This means that many more of us are at risk – not just our elderly relatives. Experts report that almost all older adults – up to 99.5 per cent – already have the virus that can cause shingles1.
Up to one in three Australians risk getting shingles in their lifetime3 and it’s estimated that in Australia, around 120,000 people may be diagnosed a year. That’s enough to fill the Melbourne Cricket Ground and leave 20,000 people waiting at the gates.
We’ve learnt a lot about viruses over the past year or so – especially how they can completely change our lives. But shingles kind of sneaks up on you. It’s in your body from the time you have chickenpox as a child and then something just sets it off and it reactivates into a case of shingles.
When it does reactivate, it can be extremely painful. When I was on The Celebrity Apprentice Australia in 2013, I went to bed one evening and woke up the next morning with a band of pain down the right side of my body.
I had another shingles outbreak and it was just so painful.
When my clothes touched the shingles blisters it made me wince in pain. Doing everyday things – like going for a walk, cooking or going to work – were extremely hard. I couldn’t sleep on my side which made getting a full night of sleep very difficult.
The stress, intensity and fireworks of reality TV made living with shingles a daily struggle.
Shingles can create a vicious cycle that affects your health. Many factors may increase your risk of shingles such as age, weakened immune system and potentially stress and poor mental health3. The onset of shingles can then be painful, robbing you of independence and a productive balanced life. This then can further impact your mental health.
For me shingles was a painful and debilitating experience. Symptoms vary from person to person and while most people recover fully, up to 25 per cent may experience long term complications4.
So I reckon don’t wait. Talk to your doctor about shingles today and visit knowshingles.com.au to find out more.