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Is Shingles Common with COPD?

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Dear COPD Coach,

I am 57 years old and have COPD. Friends of mine have told me that I should consider getting a “shingles” shot. Is shingles common with COPD?

—A “Rash” Decision

Dear Decision,
You can only get shingles if you have had the chicken pox. The virus that causes chickenpox is called varicella, and it remains dormant in your nerve cells. If at some point later in your life your immune system weakens or becomes compromised, the virus awakens and becomes shingles. As you age, the risk that the virus may awaken becomes greater, and if you have a compromised immune system to begin with, the risk is multiplied. If you have never had the chickenpox, you can not get shingles.

Generally, shingles will first become evident as a muscle ache in one part of your body. Most often, a rash will then appear on one side of the body. The area this occurs is called a dermatome, which is an area on your body where one of the nerves from your spinal cord connects with the skin. The rash will usually affect only one part of your body, but that area could be just about anywhere on your body including your face.

Pain associated with shingles is considerable, and long lasting, however in younger people, pain can be mild or almost non-existent. Generally treatment consists of anti-viral medications, and pain medication if necessary, and the duration of the episode can be quite lengthy. The pain associated with the shingles outbreak usually subsides as the rash heals, but in some cases can last for months or even years. This long-term nerve pain is called postherpetic neuralgia, or PHN. Once you have had the initial outbreak, you can and often will still have repeat episodes, though the duration and severity of these episodes will not be severe.

The rash itself somewhat resembles poison ivy or poison oak and can cause permanent scaring. Shingles forming around the eye can lead to eye infections and vision impairment. Shingles infections inside or near the ear can cause Ramsay Hunt syndrome, where the facial nerves become paralyzed. Ramsay Hunt syndrome can cause hearing and balance problems, as well as weakness of the muscles on the affected side of the face.

As you might have gathered, shingles is nothing to take lightly. People with COPD often have weakened or compromised immune systems and are at a great risk of developing shingles. We would advise all people with COPD and their caregivers to talk with their doctor about getting the shingles vaccine. Insurance may not cover the vaccine if you are under the age of 60, but the cost of this preventative treatment pales in comparison to having to suffer through an outbreak.

Hope this helps!

The COPD Coach

Ask the Expert is aimed at providing information for individuals with COPD to take to your doctor, and is not in any way intended to be medical advice. If you would like to submit a question to the Coaches Corner email us at coachescorner@copdfoundation.org. We would love to hear your questions and comments. You can address your emails to any of the following: COPD Coach, Caregiver Coach, COPD Doctor or COPD RT.

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  • If you have a compromised immune system or very severe COPD, the Doctors will not let you have the shot. After getting a transplant, they won't let you get the shot either. This is because you have a compromised immune system and the shingles shot is a live virus and will make you sick. I asked about it when I was first diagnosed at FEV 16 and they said I was too sick to get one and that the benefits didn't out way the possiblity of me getting sick. After having my double lung transplant for almost 3 years, I did come down with shingles. They aren't nice at all.
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  • I'm 71 with severe emphysema and my Pulmonologist strongly recommended I get the shot although I had shingles 30 years ago. People don't get sick from love virus inoculations such as the flu shot or this one. I suggest that you provide you doctor with the statement above from the COPD coach.
    Reply

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