Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles, also called herpes zoster. After the chickenpox clears, the virus stays inside the body. If the virus reactivates (wakes up), the result is shingles – a painful, blistering rash.
In October 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new vaccine that can prevent shingles. This is the second vaccine that the FDA has approved to prevent shingles.
Insurance currently covers the cost of getting the shingles vaccine that the FDA approved some years ago. Who pays for the cost of this new vaccine, however, is causing confusion. Here’s what you should know.
While this new vaccine is available, it takes time for insurance companies to cover the cost. It’s expected that insurance will cover the cost of getting this new vaccine, which requires 2 shots, in 2018.
The risk of getting shingles increases with age. A vaccine can reduce your risk of getting shingles. Your doctor may recommend getting this vaccine after your 50th birthday or once you reach 60 years of age. There’s another, and maybe even more important, reason for getting the shingles vaccine. If you’ve had chickenpox, you can still get shingles after getting the shingles vaccine. Despite that downside, the vaccine will still lessens your risk of developing serious complications from shingles, such as life-disrupting nerve pain.
The nerve pain can last long after the shingles rash goes away. Some people have this nerve pain, called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN), for many years. The pain can be so bad that it interferes with your everyday life. The shingles vaccine reduces your risk of developing this nerve pain, even more than it reduces your risk of getting shingles.
An anti-viral medicine may also prevent long-lasting nerve pain if your get shingles. It’s most effective when started within 3 days of seeing the rash. The anti-viral medicine can also make shingles symptoms milder and shorter.
To diagnose shingles, a dermatologist will look at the skin and ask some questions.
If there is any doubt, the dermatologist may scrape a blister to get a sample. This sample will be examined under a microscope. Also, the dermatologist may send the fluid from a blister to a laboratory for testing.
Without treatment, the rash may clear in a few weeks. Dermatologists, however, strongly recommend treatment. Without it, many people get pain, numbness, itching, and tingling that can last for months and even years.
It’s best to get treatment immediately. Treatment can include:
- Pain relievers to help ease the pain: The pain can be very bad, and prescription painkillers may be necessary.
- Anti-viral medicine: This medicine may be prescribed when a doctor diagnoses shingles within 72 hours of the rash first appearing. The earlier anti-viral treatment is started, the better it works. They can lessen the pain and the amount of time the pain lasts.
- Nerve blocks: Given for intense pain, these injections contain a numbing anesthetic and sometimes a corticosteroid.
- Corticosteroids: To lower swelling and pain, some patients may get corticosteroid pills with their anti-viral medicine. This treatment is not common because it can make the rash spread.