Friday, 17 November 2017

My Shingles Experience & My Survival Tips




If you follow me on Instagram then you'll probably be aware from my stories that I have recently suffered with a long and particularly nasty bout of shingles.

If you didn't catch those stories but you've noticed that I'm spending a lot more time make-up free on Instagram stories or wearing glasses...then this is why! It is also why I keep complaining about my sore eye, why I look a bit like Quasimodo in the face department in all my photos and why I can't film a video without my eyes blinking too much and rolling involuntarily and looking generally weird.

So as you have probably gathered from all of the above....shingles is NOT FUN. In fact it is an absolute SHITTER of an illness to have, to put it as mildly as possible.

Quite a few people have said to me "oh isn't shingles basically just adult chicken pox?"...as they looked at me in a "Why are you milking this? It can't be THAT bad" sort of way...

Well let me tell you...NO. No it is not just adult chicken pox, infact the strain of shingles I had was absolutely nothing like chicken pox at all! I didn't even have a rash!

Over the course of the last month and a half (which is how long I've had them, because they refuse to go away) I have done a LOT of googling about shingles and I have come to realise that there is not enough information online from past shingles sufferers to give any information or advice to people....so I decided that as soon as I was well enough, I would share my experience with this illness and the things I have found helpful in recovering from it.

It may be a bit of a boring read for my usual blog readers so apologies for that, but bookmark it because you never know when shingles is going to strike you down and believe me...you'll want all the advice you can get!


So what exactly IS shingles?  

Well if you want a medical definition you can bloody well google it yourself, but in very basic terms...shingles is a nerve infection which is caused by the reactivation of the dormant chickenpox virus in your body.

Which means that you can only get shingles if you have previously had chicken pox, there is no other way to get it.
This also means that you cannot catch shingles from somebody...but you CAN catch chicken pox from somebody with shingles if you come into direct contact with their rash.


So basically...once you have had chicken pox, the virus stays in your system and lays dormant until one day it suddenly reactivates as shingles. Meaning it could happen at any time, with very little warning. Or in my case...no warning at all.

It most commonly occurs in patients with weakened immune systems such as the elderly, or cancer patients but it can also occur during periods of high stress. (I developed shingles when my immune system was very low as a result of my ongoing thyroid disease.)

The first sign of shingles is supposed to be pain, tingling or numbness in a localised area of the body - but this did not happen to me.

I felt absolutely fine in the weeks before I was hit with shingles...I had no signs at all that it was coming, until one day a few tiny little spots appeared on the side of my nose. They were not itchy or sore, they were merely unsightly...I assumed it was due to a change in make up and waited for them to go away but I felt otherwise fine.

A few days later, I noticed that my right eye felt irritated...as though I had something in it but no matter what I tried, I couldn't get rid of that gritty irritated feeling.

And then, about 5 days after the spot on my nose appeared...(and it was getting larger)...I started to get headaches. 

They were unlike any headache I'd had before...my head THROBBED all over and it was so intense that no painkillers brought even the slightest bit of relief. 

Being a bit of a health anxious person anyway I of course immediately jumped to the conclusion that I was having a brain hemorrhage (as you do) and along with the worsening pain in my eye I decided it was time to see a Dr...so I called 111, who advised me to go straight to A & E as it was the weekend (isnt it always the weekend when these things happen?!)

So I went to A & E, who didn't seem to know what to look for at all. When they realised that I suffer with graves disease they assumed it must be related to this as eye problems can occur in Graves patients, so I waited 6 hours to see an ophthalmologist who assumed it was the start of thyroid eye disease and gave me a referral and some steroid drops, and sent me home.

That night I couldn't sleep for the pain in my head...I remember laying in bed almost screaming in pain, and crying with frustration that it just seemed to be getting worse and worse.

The next day, still in pain and now unable to open my right eye at all, I went to see my GP for advice on how to manage the pain.  Jon wasn't able to come in to surgery with me as there was nobody to watch the boys and he couldnt get parked, and I remember feeling so ill that I stood in the line worrying about the fact that I had no ID on me so if I passed out they wouldn't know who I was.

Luckily that didnt happen and the Dr called me in...as soon as I sat down in his office, I burst into tears. I told him my symptoms and what had happened at A & E through sobs, and I remember feeling really frustrated when he said "Ok...and whats this on your nose?"

I remember thinking "Its a bloody massive scabbed over spot obviously! Why are you kicking me when I'm down?! Whats that got to do with anything?!" ....but I replied/wailed "I dont knowwww.....I'm just a mess, I dont know whats going on...SOBBBB"

That's when he said "I'm going to call back through to A & E because I think you might have shingles"

I thought to myself "What the hell?! SHINGLES?! Of course its not shingles!"

I also realised that I actually didn't have a clue what shingles was. Wasn't it just adult chicken pox?! (ha...NO! Its not!) 

So off I went to hospital again. And after a few hours, they confirmed that they suspected shingles and they kept me in overnight to give me IV anti-viral medication.

The next day I was sent home with a weeks course of anti viral tablets (acyclovir) ... 
after a week or so the headaches stopped, but I felt more exhausted and lethargic than I'd ever felt in my life before and I still couldn't open my eye.

Because the shingles hadn't developed as a rash on my body but rather as a small spot on the side of my nose, this was the most risky kind...as it meant my eye was in danger. Shingles in the eye can be very serious, causing vision damage and even blindness.

I had to go back and see the eye clinic, who confirmed that the shingles had spread to my eye.

Over the past 7 weeks I have had more different kinds of drops, eye ointments, eye x rays, eye tests and more poking and prodding than I ever thought possible...I used to be quite frightened of my eyes being touched, at least this has chased that fear away!

It took about 10 days for the scab on my nose and the bumpy skin that also appeared along the length of it to get better, and about 2 weeks for me to feel more like myself again (although I have still felt more tired than usual...apparently this can take up to 6 months to recover from).

But the shingles in my right eye has been incredibly difficult to get rid of...after initially being diagnosed on the 20th September I was only finally told that the blisters had gone on 7th November, and I still have to continue applying the drops and ointment for another 2 weeks as it has left my eye extremely dry which is causing blurred vision and light sensitivity.

The skin on my nose and my right eye feels completely numb apart from some itchiness and tingling every now and then which is a weird sensation...it can take years for the feeling to return, if at all.

If you are suffering with shingles, take a look at my tips below...please note that these are simply things that have worked for me personally and you should consult your Dr before trying anything.

My Top Tips For Dealing With Shingles

1) SLEEP

Sleep is the best medicine in the case of shingles...it will leave you feeling absolutely exhausted and you will be in pain or feeling irritated most of the time anyway, so the more sleep you are able to get...the better! I spent a good 5 days in bed and I don't think I would have recovered by now if I hadn't done that.

2) Get Anti Virals as soon as possible

Anti viral medication should be administered as soon as you feel the symptoms start to give them the best chance of working...although they do not cure shingles (there is no cure) they can help to lessen the severity of an attack and shorten it too.

3) Use a warm compress if you have shingles in the eye

The pain of the shingles in the eye was absolutely indescribable, and for a while I kept trying cold compresses in the hope that it would bring some relief to the burning pain I felt searing through my eye but it didn't. After a while I tried a warm compress and this was much more effective. It isn't a cure but even a few moments relief is worth it!

4) Once the blisters have healed, use apple cider vinegar to help the itching

I found the intense itching after the blisters had healed to be almost as bad as the pain itself had been. I googled home remedies and noticed some people recommended apple cider vinegar. I had some at home so I used a cotton bud, dipped it in the vinegar and wiped off the excess and then carefully applied it to the itchy area. It worked brilliantly and pretty much cured the itching right away! Do be extremely careful with where you use this though.

5) For dry skin, use an emollient lotion

After the shingles had healed, I was left with VERY dry skin on the affected areas....so dry that it was becoming cracked, red and painful. I tried a few different moisturisers but they stung the sensitive skin and didnt do much to help. I then found my sons Diprobase emollient lotion which was prescribed for baby eczema and applied this...it worked really well and didn't irritate my skin at all.

I hope these tips are useful and I hope you heal quickly. Shingles seriously SUCKS.


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1 comment

  1. Oh you poor thing, this is horrific and such as shame that you were passed from pillar to post each time. As you say, Shingles takes month's and month's to get over and I'm reliably informed that permanent nerve damage can be effected by cold weather (like a nasty form of chillblains sp?) Take care of you sweetie and fingers and toes crossed you feel better for this year's festivities xxx

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