You may think of shingles as a disease that only older people get. If you are in your 20s, 30s, or 40s, you may feel that you don’t need to worry about complications of shingles sending you to a 24 hour emergency room.
However, although most people who get shingles are age 50 and older, it’s not true that younger people can’t get it. The fact is that anyone who has previously had chickenpox has the potential to develop shingles, even children. The number of reports that people are diagnosed with shingles in their 20s and 30s is increasing.
Though it can be very painful, shingles is usually not life-threatening emergency. However, there are situations in which it can cause severe and potentially fatal complications requiring immediate medical treatment.
What Causes Shingles?
Shingles is caused by the Varicella-Zoster virus. f you have ever had a case of chickenpox, you still have the varicella-zoster virus lurking deep within your nerve cells, just dormant. If you are lucky, they remain inactive for the rest of your life, and you never have any problems.
For some people, however, the virus reactivates and causes shingles infection. It is not entirely clear what causes the virus to reactivate and the shingles infection to emerge.
There seems to be a connection between shingles and immune suppression or disorders. That partially explains why shingles typically affect the elderly because the immune system becomes weaker as people age. However, it does not explain why some people are getting it earlier, and more research is warranted.
What Are the Symptoms of Shingles?
Shingles typically cause a rash of itchy, painful blisters occurring on only one side of the body. It may wrap around the side of the torso, along one side of the face, or it may occur in small patches, but still typically on only one side. Shingles can also affect the internal organs, making the skin rash absent. Additional symptoms include chills/fever, upset stomach, and headache.
Even before the rash emerges, you may experience early symptoms of tingling or itching, as well as a burning, shooting pain. This, again, typically affects only one side of the body and can range from mild to severe. The rash usually emerges one to 14 days after these symptoms start.
Can Shingles Complications Require a Visit to a 24-Hour Emergency Room?
It is rare to have severe complications from shingles. However, they do occur and include Encephalitis, which is swelling of the brain due to inflammation. Another possible complication of shingles is Pneumonia, which can cause acute breathing difficulty. If left untreated, both of these complications could be fatal and so require a visit to an emergency room.
Additionally, shingles can also lead to other complications with long-term effects. Because it affects the nerves, shingles can cause permanent hearing loss, balance issues, or vision loss if it occurs around the ears or the eyes.
Another complication of shingles is Postherpetic Neuralgia, which is chronic pain that results from damage to the nerves. PHN occurs after the shingles infection has run its course and may endure for years, maybe even for the rest of your life. It can range in severity, sometimes becoming so severe that it interferes with your daily activities.
How is Shingles Treated in an Emergency Room?
Shingles cannot be cured, but it is possible to manage the pain with medications. These may include corticosteroid injections, narcotics, numbing agents, and drugs to treat neurological symptoms.
It’s also possible for your doctor to give you antiviral medications that can lessen the severity of symptoms and reduce your risk for complications. These are more effective the sooner you take them after symptoms start showing up. Therefore, see your doctor as soon as possible if you have any signs of shingles.
How Many Times Can You Get Shingles?
Most people only get shingles once. Unfortunately, however, even after one case clears up, the virus remains in the body. Some people get shingles more than once as the virus reactivates in the body. The reasons for this are not always clear.
Even younger adults can potentially experience shingles. Any acute symptoms or severe pain due to shingles or another condition can be evaluated at Community Health 1st ER.
Could Shingles Send You to the 24-Hour Emergency Room? | Community Health 1st ER