American Academy of Ophthalmology and American Dermatological Association urge younger people to get the shingles vaccine to protect their health and vision
SAN FRANCISCO — The American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Dermatological Association recommend people age 50 and older get the shingles vaccine – 10 years younger than a previous recommendation. It is now estimated that one in three people will develop shingles (herpes zoster), with the greatest number of cases of occurring in people in their 50s. Some will suffer an extremely painful and disfiguring complication called herpes zoster ophthalmicus that can cause blindness. Even though an effective vaccine is available, many continue to go unvaccinated.
Shingles starts with pain, itching, and tingling of the skin. Redness and numbness leads to a rash. Blisters form, then they break open and scab over. Though the blisters and scabs can last a few weeks, the pain lasts much longer, especially in older patients age 65 years and above. Some patients report that the pain is so bad they contemplate suicide.
If the virus infects the nerves of the eye, it can cause:
- Rash on your eyelids;
- Eye infections;
- Pink eye;
- Infection and inflammation of the cornea (front of the eye)
- Dry eye;
- Blurry vision and sensitivity to bright light;
- Pain and swelling inside the eye;
- Swelling of the optic nerve behind your eye; and
- Breakdown of the cornea so severe it requires a corneal transplant.
“Ophthalmologists and other physicians have a moral obligation to encourage immunocompetent people older than 50 to get vaccinated,” said Elisabeth Cohen, M.D., clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “The number of people affected is growing, and the health consequences are significant. The zoster vaccine is safe and effective. If you are older than 50 and are eligible, just do it.”
The herpes zoster virus is the same virus that causes chicken pox. More than 95 percent of people born in the United States who are older than 40 have had chicken pox. The virus lingers in the body and can be reactivated as shingles many years later. This can be due to your body’s natural aging process. Or it can be due to anything that weakens your immune system.
It is unclear why the risk has increased by almost 70 percent in the past 15 years. But it is clear that shingles is no longer just an older person’s disease. Research shows that the risk goes up after age 40 and rises sharply at age 50. About 50 percent of people who live to age 85 will develop shingles.
Unfortunately, only 31 percent of eligible people age 60 and older are vaccinated, and approximately 5 percent of people age 50 to 59, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Dermatologists are often the first physicians to see these patients, as the disease begins with a painful rash with blisters.
In July, the American Dermatological Association announced that it supports the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s recommendation for the shingles vaccine in appropriate patients over the age of 50.
“Herpes zoster can have devastating outcomes with prolonged intractable pain, and the potential for loss of vision,” said David E Cohen, MD, MPH, immediate past president of the American Dermatological Association. “Public health measures such as a zoster vaccine can reduce the chance of developing shingles or mitigate the impact of the disease.”
About the American Academy of Ophthalmology
The American Academy of Ophthalmology is the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons. A global community of 32,000 medical doctors, we protect sight and empower lives by setting the standards for ophthalmic education and advocating for our patients and the public. We innovate to advance our profession and to ensure the delivery of the highest-quality eye care. Our EyeSmart® program provides the public with the most trusted information about eye health. For more information, visit aao.org.
About the ADA
Founded in 1876, the American Dermatological Association (ADA) was the first national dermatological society in the United States. Its members are recognized leaders in Dermatology research, education, organizational medicine, and patient care. Its charge is to further the advancement of all aspects of scientific endeavor in Dermatology. In the execution of its enduring mission, it has been responsible for the development of a number of dermatologic organizations including the American Academy of Dermatology, the Society for Investigative Dermatology, and the American Board of Dermatology. Membership in the ADA is achieved through nomination and election based on meritorious contributions to the field of Medicine and Dermatology.
Content shared from the AAO.org