Things you need to know about shingles
- Shingles can lead to a cluster of small blisters or painful rashes which can be tingling or burning
- The pain can occur either before the appearance of the rashes or without any kind of rashes which can make a diagnosis of the same difficult
- Shingles primarily occur due to varicella-zoster virus; however, it is not possible to catch them
- Older people, cancer patients, people suffering from AIDS, and those with a depressed immune system are more likely to suffer from shingles
- Antiviral drugs like famciclovir and valaciclovir are much effective in reducing the pain as well as the rashes during shingles
- The primary way of diagnosing shingles is through the appearance of rashes on the skin
- If the pregnant mother is suffering from shingles, it wouldn’t harm the fetus or even the baby
- The people who have recently recovered from chickenpox including children are at high risk of suffering from shingles
- Shingles is not a contagious disease, yet the person having active shingles can easily spread the virus if the rashes are uncovered during the blister phase
- Shingles mostly last for around 3 to 5 weeks, and most of them have it only once in their lifetime. However, there is a possibility of shingles occurring again
Shingles During Pregnancy
The news of pregnancy brings new excitement to motherhood. While enjoying the thrilling kicks, changes in taste, cravings, growing belly, and much more, the expecting mother is surely not going to notice any kind of rashes. But the fact is that shingles and chickenpox are something one needs to pay attention to when pregnant.
Surprisingly, shingles are quite rare during pregnancy, there are still many women that suffer from shingles. Fortunately, the antiviral medications prescribed by the doctors are safe to use during pregnancy for getting some relief from pain in the early stages. Yet, there are some nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications that should be avoided in the later pregnancy stages.
Many people think chickenpox and shingles are the same, but the fact is that they differ from each other. If you have already had chickenpox in your childhood, you are surely not going to have it again when adults. However, this doesn’t mean you are safe from shingles.
Confused what is shingles? How it differs from chickenpox, and what is the treatment for the same? Keep reading further to go through every possible detail regarding shingles during pregnancy.
What is Shingles?
During pregnancy, you might not be worried about other health issues people around you are having, but shingles are something you need to be concern about. Nearly 1 out of 3 people suffer from shingles once in their life. Also termed as herpes zoster, shingles mostly occurs during the older age, but you still need to be concerned about it during pregnancy.
Shingles are one of the viral infections that result in itching and painful rashes. The varicella-zoster virus that is responsible for chickenpox is also responsible for developing shingles. When an individual suffers from chickenpox during childhood or when young, the virus remains latent in the body system. This latent virus when becomes active again can result in shingles.
How do shingles and chickenpox differ from each other?
Both shingles and chickenpox come from the same virus, which is the varicella-zoster virus. But chickenpox comes with itching and telltale red bumps visible on the body or inside the mouth also. On the other hand, shingles are painful and blistering rashes that usually occur on the face or on one side of the body.
One can only suffer from shingles if the individual has suffered from chickenpox during childhood or when young. This is because when chickenpox occurs, the virus doesn’t entirely leave the body system. Hence, the possibility of the virus resurfacing in the form of shingles in the future increases, yet, it is a rare health issue, particularly during pregnancy.
What are the signs and symptoms of shingles?
Shingles is an issue that normally attacks the immune system through immunosuppressive drugs, illnesses, changes related to age, severe stress, etc. that allow the virus to attack again. Hence, some of the early symptoms of shingles are shooting pain, tingling sensation, burning, itching, etc. that are usually observed on the face or single side of the body. The pain can be mild or severe at times. Sometimes, the symptoms can also be accompanied by other health issues like diarrhea, nausea, chills, difficulty in urinating, and fever. The tingling sensation and pain are further followed with rashes which turn into red bumps on the trunk. After some days, the bumps get filled with fluid and turn into blisters that crust over and fall off after nearly 7 to 10 days.
Even after the rashes fade away, the color of the skin might be different. Along with all these, nerve pain may appear on the rashes, often termed as postherpetic neuralgia. The pain in most of the cases vanishes in around 4 months from the day the first rash is observed. Shingles are quite easy to determine. The doctor would immediately suspect shingles when a rash is observed on the single side of the body along with other issues like a burning pain, chickenpox history, and sharp pain.
What are the treatments for shingles during pregnancy?
The treatment for shingles includes antiviral medicines, pain medicines, and antihistamine medications that help in reducing the pain.
1. Antiviral medications
The doctors prescribe antiviral medicines to pregnant women for treating shingles. The medicines are very safe and don’t harm the mother or the fetus. The antiviral medications include famciclovir, valacyclovir, and acyclovir. The medications reduce the duration and severity of the rashes when taken during the earlier phase that within 72 hours of the presence of the rashes.
2. Pain medicines
When suffering from shingles during pregnancy, pain medicines like acetaminophen is also prescribed for getting relief from the pain. However, the pain medications would only help in reducing the pain and wouldn’t affect the development of the rashes and blisters. Hence, if the pregnant woman is feeling any kind of mild or severe pain, she needs to inform the health care professional for having the prescription. It is again essential to avoid nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines like Advil, ibuprofen, Nuprin, Motrin, etc., especially during later pregnancy.
3. Antihistamine medications
Antihistamine medicines like diphenhydramine or Benadryl are much helpful in reducing any issues attached to itching. You can also experiment with other home remedies for reducing the itching sensation like calamine lotion and oatmeal baths. Many pregnant women have reported that using compresses and cool clothes has been much helpful for getting relief from the itching. Make sure to cover the areas affected with clean gauze as well as wear loose clothes that can help with quick healing and help in preventing secondary infection of the skin that is already affected.
Luckily, only 1 or 2 out of 10000 pregnant women would develop shingles. When the immune system gets suppressed, that is likely to happen during pregnancy due to aging and stress, the chickenpox virus can lead to shingles.
What are the possible steps to prevent shingles during pregnancy?
The varicella-zoster virus (VZV) is highly transmittable. Hence, if you haven’t suffered from chickenpox earlier, it becomes important to avoid any kind of exposure to the person or crowd infected with chickenpox or shingles during pregnancy. But if you have already suffered from chickenpox in your childhood, getting in touch with anyone having shingles or chickenpox is safe.
Talking about chickenpox, if it occurs during pregnancy, the chances of the fetus getting infected or having birth defects increase depending on when the mother got infected. Shingles would also have an impact on the unborn child, but it is less risky compared to chickenpox. As per research, the fetus wasn’t infected if the pregnant women are having shingles.
Hence, if you are not sure about having chickenpox earlier, you can talk to the doctor and go for a blood test to check on antibodies to VZV. If any antibodies are found in the body, it means you have already had chickenpox earlier which reduces the risk of suffering from shingles in the future and may not catch shingles from an infected person.
What are the possible complications of shingles?
Shingles can at times be very painful during pregnancy. Many women complaining about shingles to the doctor term it to be painful due to which they look for immediate treatment. Some women feel a sensation like feeling similar to something brushing across the nerve endings that are reddened on the skin the is excruciating. Even after the rash disappears, postherpetic neuralgia can continue for some years.
Apart from all these, shingles can lead to various other complications too. Like if it appears on the face, the eyes are at high risk of getting damaged. It can result in scarring that damages the vision, or glaucoma that leads to blindness in life.
Shingles can also lead to weakness of the muscles, balancing, and hearing problems on the face side that is affected. Rarely, but shingles might also spread into the spinal cord or the brain causing serious health issues like meningitis or stroke.
As per research, more than 3 people out of 10 agonize from serious complications when having shingles during pregnancy. Again, if the expecting mother has a suppressed immune system due to medications, or HIV, they are at high risk of having such serious complications. Hence, if any of the complications are observed, getting in touch with the doctor right away is highly suggested.
How to protect the baby when suffering from shingles or chickenpox during pregnancy?
Chickenpox during pregnancy needs to be considered seriously, which makes it important to protect the baby from the infection. If during pregnancy the mother is exposed to chickenpox, the doctor would prescribe you the VARIZIG (varicella-zoster immune globulin) injection which helps in dealing with the infection be it mild or severe. However, it is still not sure whether the injection would protect your baby or not.
If the expecting mother is suffering from shingles, to protect the newly born baby, the mother should cover the rashes of shingles as the lesions on the rashes would have active virus elements, and wash the hands frequently. If the rashes are on the breasts, see your doctor as soon as possible and avoid breastfeeding the newly born baby.
The doctors many times suggest going for antiviral therapy through medications if the rashes have appeared for 72 hours. This would reduce the rashes and keep you and your baby during pregnancy and even at the time of breastfeeding.
No doubt, the number of pregnant women having shingles is quite low. Hence, if you are preparing for conceiving and are concerned about having shingles during pregnancy, talk to the doctor about the chances of having it as well as the vaccination as the discomfort and the pain can make the pregnancy period difficult. For those who are already pregnant, go for a healthy lifestyle and healthy eating habits, and make sure the doctor is aware of the symptoms you are facing. Recognizing the symptoms and working the treatment at the earliest would surely help in reducing the complications for the expecting mother and the baby inside.