If You're Over 50, This Cautionary Tale Is for You

Shingles is way more painful than you can imagine, writes Hillary Frey
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 13, 2024 2:40 PM CDT
Whatever You Know About Shingles—It's Worse
A stock image of shingles blisters. We spared you from far more graphic options.   (Getty Images / janzwolinski)

Whatever you think you know of shingles, it's probably not extreme enough. It wasn't for Hillary Frey, who is 48 and two weeks into a case of shingles that took her by surprise—with its onset, and with how painful it has been, she writes for Slate. "Shingles is for old people," she thought when she described the odd sensitivity she was experiencing in her right leg to someone who replied that it could be shingles. Four days passed between the onset of her symptoms and an official diagnosis, despite three doctor's appointments over that time. At first her leg pain was dismissed as a pinched nerve, but when a rash broke out over her upper right leg, her case of shingles—which can strike any adult who had chickenpox as a kid—was clear.

"I thought everyone said it was so painful in part because old people got it," writes Frey, "and old people are weaker than younger people." It was an unfortunate misconception. She found shingles "way worse than I had imagined. I'd thought it was, like, a big, red, unsightly, blistery rash that was painful. No. It's 'this is a virus attacking your nerves' painful." Despite an antiviral medication and another drug called gabapentin, her pain is expected to last weeks or months. She has since implored her friends over 50—the age at which insurance pays for the shingles vaccine—to get it. "And so I am asking you to do the same, even though I don't know you." (Read the full essay for much more on her experience.)

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