Shingles is a very atypical virus that usually affects many older adults and senior citizens who had chickenpox when they were children. It is far less common, almost unusual, for teenagers to have it unless their immune systems are compromised in some way. However, that does not mean that teens cannot get shingles. If your child had chickenpox when he or she was younger and now seems to have a nasty, painful rash with blisters, there is a good chance she has developed herpes zoster, another name for this viral infection. Here is what you need to know about the problem, identifying it, and treating it in your teenager.
What It Looks Like
Imagine several smaller chickenpox blisters clustered together, with several clusters at different spots on the body. Interestingly enough, this virus lays dormant in nerve tissue, so wherever the nerves extend outward from the spinal column is where these patches of blisters will be found. The patches will not itch, but they are very uncomfortable, produce a burning sensation, and may even be extremely painful when the blisters are rubbed to the point of popping. Older adults who develop this viral rash say it’s one of the most painful rashes you can have. That should be no less true in a younger person, although teenagers are more able to tolerate pain than their grandparents. You should avoid popping the blisters as much as you can, but some will pop just from the act of getting dressed or undressed and rolling around in bed at night.
How Long It Lasts If Untreated
The infection and rash can last up to four weeks in reasonably healthy adults. When it occurs in an adolescent, the rash appears due to either an underlying medical condition or a medication. It may increase in severity if the underlying condition is not treated or the medication ceased until the rash can clear. If the teen’s immune system is compromised by something else, four weeks may be the shorter estimate for clearing up the rash and blisters.
The other issue is that in adults, it can cause damage to internal organs. It is unusual but not unheard of. Whether or not that happens in teenagers depends entirely on how compromised their immune systems are. For example, a teen undergoing chemotherapy and radiation can develop Herpes Zoster very quickly. It can spread to the kidneys, lungs, etc., and cause irreparable damage because the teen is not physically well enough to fight it off. If you see the rash described above, your teen should see a doctor immediately, especially if he or she is under the care of a physician for a much more severe illness.
Treating It in Adolescents
A shingles cream applied to the rash can help ease the pain and discomfort and dry up the liquid-filled blisters. Regular bathing during this time to reduce the possible infection of the popped blisters is essential. Some doctors suggest placing bandages over the areas where the rash is the worst, but other doctors recommend allowing those areas to air out after applying a cream. The pediatric dermatologist or other specialist treating the teenager will want to keep an eye on the rash patches. If you run out of the cream or the rash becomes worse, contact the doctor right away. He or she will want to see the teen in the office as soon as possible to inspect the rash patches and find out why they are not going away. The doctor may also want to test the teenager for a weakened immune system or immunological disorders. It is essential to rule out an underlying condition that is unknown before continuing treatment so that herpes zoster treatment is more effective. If there is another condition discovered and diagnosed, it should be treated simultaneously if and when it is safe.