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My Experience of Shingles

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      13.05.2011 18:20
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      Most definitely no laughing matter!

      There are some diseases and conditions that seem to prompt sniggers in an audience so reliably that (unimaginative) comedians can integrate them into their acts. Never mind that they may be very uncomfortable and miserable for their sufferers, they'll get laughs. A good example of this is ingrowing toenails. I can speak from experience when I say that those can be agonisingly painful, and are not at all amusing for the sufferer. Yet they were still used by the otherwise hugely impressive "Fawlty Towers" simply for a giggle; it's the only real complaint I have with that series.

      Shingles, however, does not seem to have this "humorous" association in people's minds, despite having a silly-sounding name. Why this should be, I don't know, but I can now say with absolute certainty that *I* shan't be making too many jokes about it. Maybe its lack of public profile is because it's surprisingly absent from the general consciousness, despite being a condition that the vast majority of people in the UK are susceptible to (as it's caused by the herpes zoster virus, if you've had chickenpox you're a carrier), and one that a full quarter of us will develop at one time or another. Most of them are over 50, but -- as you'll see -- by no means all of them!

      My story begins on an ordinary Saturday in March. Feeling very weary, I thought at the time because of the tiring week I'd just had, I was enjoying a bit of gentle relaxation in a nice hot bath in the evening. Very nice it was, too... until I got out. Suddenly I experienced agonising pains in my back, bad enough to bring me to tears and allow me to do nothing else but lie down flat on the ground until they went away. The pain was a bit like that from a trapped nerve, and unlike most twinges it didn't die down after a second or two: I'd estimate it was more like a minute, which is a *long* time in such circumstances!

      I thought at the time that the pain might have been associated with a pulled muscle or something, but wanted to be reassured and so I made an appointment to see my GP on Monday. (Luckily, my surgery has a very useful online appointment system, allowing me to set a time right there and then on Saturday evening.) I briefly even considered going to the out-of-hours service at the hospital, but given that I didn't seem to be an emergency that would have meant several hours of discomfort in a waiting room, so instead I took a couple of paracetamol (ibuprofen is not recommended for diabetics) and managed to get some sleep. I followed much the same pattern on Sunday.

      Monday came around, and it was off to see the doctor. I explained my symptoms, and we went behind the curtain to have a look at my chest and back. "Hmmm," said the doc, "have you noticed this rash before?" Well, that was new to me! It hadn't been there until very recently, but yes: in a broad stripe around from my left chest to my left shoulder were a number of spots which looked a little like nasty gnat bites. "That rash," he said, "is shingles." My heart sank at this point: a friend had had shingles a few years before, and didn't have at all a nice time.

      Now, I didn't realise it at the time, but getting that appointment early probably saved me a fair bit of misery. The reason for that is that because the rash had only just appeared, the GP thought it worth prescribing me a course of an antiviral drug called Aciclovir. Almost everyone who's had shingles will tell you that you should press as hard as you can to get antivirals prescribed, and they're right. They are a bit of a pain to take: big chunky 800 mg tablets you drink dissolved in glass of water, every four hours (with one gap at night, thankfully) for a full week. Annoying, but still worth it.

      At this point, I thought I might get away with only very mild symptoms, since I hadn't had pain as bad as on that first Saturday. Silly, silly me... as the disease progressed, the spots started to spread and scab over (just like chickenpox spots, unsurprisingly) and began to become sore and itchy as they started to drop away. Old-fasioned calamine lotion works quite well in soothing this itchiness, though you shouldn't expect miracles and in most cases it will only reduce the soreness rather than make it go away entirely.

      Compared with the other stuff, though, those scabs didn't bother me too much. For a start, I got those horrible, extended-twingy pains again. At least with a pulled muscle you know where it's going to hurt, but not with shingles. I might get one pain on my left chest, then later another in my upper back, then on another occasion on my side. There was *no* position I could rest in where I could be sure of avoiding the pain. I also got horrible headaches, which didn't really improve my mood! Thankfully it didn't put me off my food or make me sick, so that was *slight* compensation.

      However, the thing that got to me more than anything else was the hypersensitivity: a region of my left body, in particular at the top of my chest, became excruciatingly sensitive to touch. For quite a while it was at the point where I couldn't bear to walk outside if it was even slightly breezy, because the cotton of my shirt flapping gently against my skin was almost unbearable. I normally do plenty of walking for health reasons, but this made it nearly impossible: I was lucky if I could walk the 400 yards to the end of the road and back. Even sitting at my PC at home I'd have to work shirtless to make it bearable. I also found it very hard to get to sleep, because even a sheet on top of me was uncomfortable and a duvet was close to impossible

      There's very little you can do about shingles other than to grin (well, okay, maybe not) and bear it while it goes away. It *will* take a long time -- several months isn't at all unheard of -- and unless you have a really, really mild case you will *not* be able to simply grit your teeth and bravely go into the office every day, no matter how much of a workaholic you take pride in being. This isn't a "Lemsip illness" that you can cover up with a few pills. You need to avoid very young children and pregnant women: although you can't catch *shingles* from someone with the illness, you *can* catch *chickenpox*.

      For the rest, home management is much as it is for things like flu that also just have to be borne. Drink plenty of fluids, don't allow your unhappiness to stop you eating a sensible diet, and take painkillers when you have to. (I'd say "if", but I doubt anyone with shingles is going to get through the whole thing without popping at least a few pills.) Paracetamol is the recommended first-line painkiller, but frankly for most shingles sufferers it's not strong enough: I was on co-codamol for the worst few days, and this is common. For anything more potent you'll need a prescription, of course.

      As I type this in mid-May, I'm still not entirely cured. The main symptoms have reduced enough that I can operate more or less normally, but the little scars where some of the spots were are still twinging unpleasantly from time to time, and the skin on my upper left chest remains noticeably more sensitive than the same area on the right. And what I had was a relatively mild case: the other day I was reading a blog by a young man who'd been more or less confined to his home for *ten weeks* as a result of a bad attack of shingles.

      Oh, and just in case you thought that was the lot: about one in ten shingles patients continue to have some nerve pain in the longer term. This is more common with elderly sufferers, so I'm hoping that it won't apply to me. And unlike chickenpox, one bout doesn't give you immunity: the virus is still there, and at present there's no cure; it just probably won't flare up again. If it does, though, I may go through all of this all over again. Or something similar: for example, it can also attack a large facial nerve, which can be both disfiguring and (if it gets close to the eyes) dangerous if not treated promptly.

      As I'm sure you'll appreciate by now, shingles is not a barrel of laughs. On the plus side, it's something that most people recover from eventually without many or any long-term effects. Because it's so common, it's also something which you'd expect any doctor to recognise at once, so misdiagnosis is unlikely. On the minus side, it's horribly uncomfortable (and often very painful) and goes on and on and *on* in a way that's almost certain to play havoc with both your working and social lives. 15 million Britons either have had, or will have, shingles: if you're one of them, you really will know about it.

      [PS: Don't you just love that this is in "Archive Lifestyle"? It's hard to think of a more inappropriately-named category!]

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        20.04.2011 19:41
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        had to take 2 weeks off school and now have low back muscle defense

        getting changed in the changing rooms is always embarrassing. After a hour long trampolining session i headed back to get changed. The under wire of my bra was itching me for ages and I was beginning to get looks so I went to the toilet to check it out. I had like a red rash all under my under wire, and passed it off as either a heat/sweat rash or a new washing tablet.

        When i got home to my nans i asked her about it and showed her the rash, we left it and booked an appointment for the doctors the next day. By the time I had got up, i had it around the top of my back and the rash had scabbed over on the under wiring. i wore a non under wire bra and tried to air it out.

        The doctors said it could be shingles, but she couldn't tell me for sure so got a second opinion and it was confirmed I had an aggressive form of Shingles. I was given a huge pack about it and when i went home I laid on my bed on my front to air my back out. I had to stay clear of other people's baths towels and put them in a separate pile so my Nan knew I had used them.

        It was hell. my teacher was pregnant at the time so there was no way I was allowed near her or any of the other kids as I would start spreading it. I missed out on tons of revision and had to have some home work sent to my Nans.

        I have been left with occasional back spasms, and they do hurt and are sudden. But I am just glad that I got over it. I was on antibiotics for the 2 weeks and had to take a few pills a day.

        Shingles attacks your muscles and like me, can leave you with muscle spasms. It caused by having Chicken Pox in the past and can lay dormant in your body, or you can catch it from another person. You can get Shingles twice unlike Chicken Pox, but it is seen as the 'adult version' of Chicken Pox. And just like it, it is so hard not to scratch!!

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          06.11.2009 03:39

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          take care..

          thankyou so much for your suming up of shingles.i contracted it 7weeks ago and am still on low doses of oxycontin for the extreme pain,skin sensititivity,and am in bed a lot of my day.it was good to find a 'fellow-sufferer'out there who was able to confirm the severity of this condition.my md said it is a major assault on the nervous system and needs to be treated as such,with a lot of rest and recuperation,good home nursing and seriousness.some bouts are not as severe as others,however all cases need to be taken seriously and treated quickly with the anti-viral drug which,if given before the pustules occur is supposed to help.i received this,had no pustules and yet seem to be taking a long time to recover.the best thing to avoid shingles altogether is to remain stress free!!so,if you feel an odd sensation or hyper -sensitivityon your head,torso,bottom or tummy,pay attention and seek help sooner rather than later.

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          12.08.2008 18:17

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          Oh my how true this is I have been off work for 6 weeks - now rash is gone but still feel like I have been run over by a lorry - my work seems to think I am swinging the lead and there is nothing wrong with me. Lets hope they dont ever suffer themselves eh.

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          11.07.2001 01:15
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          UPDATE OK, It's all over. I had what was described to me as a less serious dose of it, and I am back at work and in decent fettle after A MONTH. (earlier Update) Since almost passing out with exhaustion at work, I am now back on the sick. What my employers don't know, but will soon find out, is that my doctor has signed me off for another two weeks - I am not going to be off that long, simply because I will lose the will to live stuck at home for much longer. Trust me, you don't want this disease. Now, where were we....? Having shingles is a quite spectacular way of getting rid of people. You say ‘oh, I’ve got shingles’ and suddenly nobody wants to have anything to do with you. That awkward phonecall to work to explain just how ill you are is made suddenly easy by simply peppering your sentences with the magic words – ‘shingles’, ‘lesions’ and the clincher ‘infectious’. Part One – The disease The truth is, there is no truth. For anyone who puts a lot of faith into their doctors, Shingles ought to shake out the illusions. There is only a certain amount of consensus about how the disease works, whether or not you can catch shingles, what you can pass on, how long the disease. lasts and what the symptoms are. Every former sufferer I have spoken to originally had their shingles misdiagnosed as something else. If we take the most popular line among doctors, then Shingles is one of the surreptitious virus kings. You catch chicken pox, and after you’ve finally kicked the plague, lying quietly in some of your nerve endings is the shingles virus, and it waits until you are weak. Laid low with another illness, run-down, or – as many of my colleagues have pregnantly observed - stressed out, and suddenly, Mr Shingles says, like Darth Vader at the end of Star Wars, ‘I have you now!’. It
          ’s when your immune system is at its lowest that Shingles takes hold, so that you can’t defeat it, and it can then spread chicken pox to your loved ones and work colleagues (who, of course, can look forward to a dose of Shingles long after they’ve got over the pox). So, clever little virus. Part Two – The Suffering Victim I was initially diagnosed with something else, because what the doctor is looking for is a series of sores and blisters somewhere on your body (very possibly your face, although I’ve heard of backs and arms being the site). The virus apparently resides in one area of your nerves (left side of the head in my case) and waits. I had a headache for five days, was disagnosed with a head cold, but suddenly, a rash of red lumps appeared along the side of my head. On the day I vomitted copiously, something inside them seemed to rupture, and they went purple, and then happily calmed down to deep crimson. The second doctor visit was a quick one – the symptoms (headache on one side of the head, painful lesions, lethargy) were rapidly added up to SHINGLES!!! I was immediately signed off work for seven days in case I infected anyone else, and told to relax, to rest completely, to do nothing. To take up a theme I have been exploring in othe opinions, it is incredibly easy to do nothing if you have something like 150 DVDs, and you haven’t watched around 50% of them. The Alien Box Set dealt with one entire day, for one thing. I was prescribed anti-viral tablets, which apparently some doctors don’t bother with, as they think that you ultimately deal with the virus on your own. Do not allow this to happen. My whole head was still painful, and I had (have) nasty stinging patches across my scalp, but after only a couple of hours and one tablet, the colour had started to drain from them, and they became less painful. Most days, I woke with a dreadful headache, and found it di
          fficult to do anything much of the day. This does take a while to get better, and apparently, my three weeks of tooling around the house is something of a minor case. Once the anti-virals had done their work, I was put on anti-inflammatory tablets, which were to act on the neuralgia left behind, the soreness, the pain around my head. They dissolve in water and taste like plastic raspberries. The return to work seemed like a good idea, but a day spent actually doing anything left me completely wasted, and wishing I hadn’t bothered. The problem is, after a good solid rest, you still won’t be 100%, and an optimistic friend has already told me that shingles can be like glandular fever, so I can look forward to the possibility of some flare-ups. However, I am slowly climbing up the hill. I will be lethargic and depressed for weeks, and my head and face where the virus lived (and may still live), will be tingling for months, apparently. So, a happy note to end on then. Part Three – The sententious advice 1) If you have a cold, sinusitits, flu, watch for blotches on your skin, blisters, spots that appear in a cluster, on one area of your skin. You cannot avoid getting shingles, but you can draw this to the attention of a doctor who will take it seriously and should give you something which will ease the pain of the blisters. It will also avoid you giving chicken pox to anyone else. 2) If you have shingles, take time off and get over it. 3) Be prepared for maturity in your recovery – when you go back to work, it will be hard and you will be exhausted. But you have to do this, because just as you need to spend time off, sooner or later, you have to complete your recovery in the real world. And stay healthy, kids.

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            11.04.2001 14:51
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            A few years ago, some weeks before Christmas, I hadn't been feeling too well for some time. Some difficult things which I won't go into, for reasons of space, were happening around (and to) me, accompanied by niggling symptoms of chronic fatigue, colds, and sore throat. Not enough, quite, to make it worth phoning in sick. I shrugged my shoulders and assumed they would sort themselves out. A less than relaxing festive season, due mainly to my father's having a (thankfully mild) heart attack, intervened, and I returned to work in January feeling anything but refreshed. Within days the symptoms came back with a vengeance, now accompanied by intermittent general aches and pains. I guessed they were probably neuralgia or rheumatism, as I described them to a couple of work colleagues. They knew better, thought I might have shingles and urged me to see a doctor. By the time I did, I had this mildly irritating rash on my thigh. The doctor confirmed my trouble was indeed shingles, and probably down to a virus which had lain dormant in the system for years after I'd had chickenpox as a child. It would be uncomfortable for about a week, and then disappear. Just keep taking paracetamol, he said, and all should be well. Not feeling too bad, I went to work as usual next day (Friday), and decided it would run its course while life continued as usual. Meanwhile, having thought shingles was something middle-aged or elderly people got, not healthy youngish men of 33, I was browsing in medical dictionaries and guides to family health. Most of it was rather technical stuff which went above my head, not having studied Biology at school. By Monday, still doggedly going to work and encouraged by the gradual disappearance of my blistery rash, I was starting to feel quite unwell. As the day wore on I was, in my colleagues' words, looking like death warmed up. After a rotten night I rang in sick. I think everyone was
            surprised I'd kept going so long. One cause for some concern was that my boss, aged 39, was about five months pregnant. She had had a miscarriage the previous year. I went back to the doctor, who advised me to take the rest of the week off, but as regards my boss, not to worry; there was no danger to others of infection. So I stayed at home, rested, and took the odd painkiller, though I was advised this wasn't strictly necessary. Commonsense and nature would effect their own cure. Feeling better by the weekend than I had for ages, I returned to work the next week. Big mistake. The bizarre thing about shingles, at least in my case, was that I didn't feel too bad while I had the physical symptoms. Far worse were the after-effects. Oh, how they lingered - but I was impatient to get back to a normal routine. Firstly, shingles had done nasty things to the panic threshold. Any niggling thing that went wrong at work, or at home, became a major disaster, inducing a minor nervous breakdown and splitting headache. Secondly, I was more tired than I realised. After a full day at work I went home, had an evening meal, settled down to read, write, or watch TV - and woke up shortly before midnight, frustrated and angry with myself for having wasted a whole evening. In retrospect I should have taken another week off. Even six weeks later I was still not completely OK. At that time I ran a mobile disco, and luckily this was the quiet post-new year season with bookings few and far between. But one weekend I had bookings at separate venues on Friday and Saturday. After the latter I had been invited to a friend's party, an all-night affair where I wouldn't arrive until after midnight but it would only just be getting into the swing by then. Soon after the gig finished at 11.p.m. I was loading my gear into the car, and left for the party. It was a drive of about 20 miles along an unfamili
            ar road, I suddenly began to feel tired, and started panicking that I didn't have enough petrol to get there and home again afterwards. Soon I realised that I was worrying unnecessarily, but the damage had been done. By the time I made the party the host met me at the door, and took one look at my face. "Don't say a word until you've had a drink," she said firmly. "You obviously need one!" I went indoors and accepted said drink, but felt momentarily unable to face the rest of my friends. Instead I found a dark quiet staircase and had a good cry. After that I took more care of myself, and not before time. I had yet to make the final discovery. Shingles was not kind to my immune system. Having not had heavy colds or worse for several years, when a flu' epidemic did the rounds in November that year, I caught it badly and spent the best part of a week in bed, something I'd rarely done before, and never since. Several other colleagues at work had it, but nobody else in the family. When another flu' bug came exactly 12 months later the same thing happened, though this time less severely, and I got off with only three days spent horizontal. Since writing this opinion nearly a year ago, I had some invaluable feedback in the comments box from other members of dooyoo who had also 'been there'. I'll summarise them briefly here. One point to be borne in mind is that there is a danger of infection, from fluid in the blisters. Another is that if the blisters occur on the face, and in particular, close to the eyes, there is a risk of blindness. Go to your doctor and insist on anti-viral treatment. Apparently doctors are reluctant to prescribe anything expensive for all the obvious reasons. So be prepared to thump the surgery desk self-assertively if necessary. In conclusion, all I can say is if you get shingles anywhere on the body, look out. In my case, the probl
            ems didn't really start until it had gone - or looked like it had. In my case, it was only the beginning. And, looking at the options below, I *don't* recommend it to a friend!

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              24.10.2000 05:55
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              Shingles is caused by the herpes virus which is the one that causes chicken pox. You can't get chicken pox from a shingles sufferer, but you can get shingles from contact with chicken pox (if you've aleady had it.) This painful condition is characterised by a line of little blisters that forms along a nerve. These blister can occur on the body, especially round the waist and on the face. I had a line of them down the right hand side of my face. It started with a tingling sensation in my face, then I got sharp pain in my ear. I just felt generally unwell. The blisters are filled with liquid which can infect other people if they are in contact with it. After a couple of days these blisters formed scabs and looked really awful. They resembled cold sores in a line down the face. I was too ill to go out and in a great deal of pain (this is a really painful condition). There is little a doctor can do unless this virus is caught very early on when anti viral tablets can be used. Once the blisters are there its too late. All a doctor can do is prescribe strong painkillers. This condition persisted for about four weeks with me. At least, it took that long for the scabs to heal. The stinging pain that shoots up and down the nerve was still there six months later. Shingles is a very debilitating condition and it never clears up completely. The virus lodges itself in the nerve endings, just waiting to errupt again.

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