Shingles kept me in the dark, literally: What everyone 50-plus needs to know about shingles


Posted: February 26, 2021 | Word Count: 648

At age 57, journalist, songwriter and Maryland resident Alice was getting ready for her wedding and writing her first musical when she contracted shingles.

“I love to write songs, play piano and sing. A few days before the Fourth of July, I woke up with a tingling sensation in my eye and the worst headache I’d ever experienced.”

Alice saw her ophthalmologist but was sent home without a diagnosis. Her headache continued to intensify to the point where she went to the emergency room and was diagnosed with a migraine. “I was so frustrated because I’d never felt excruciating pain like this before and I was scared because no one could tell me what was wrong.”

When the pain still didn’t subside, she returned to the emergency room, only to be sent home again with a migraine and pain medication. Two days later, she developed a rash on her forehead and her primary care physician diagnosed her with shingles.

Anyone who has gotten chickenpox is at risk of contracting shingles, also known as herpes zoster.[1] When chickenpox becomes dormant within the nerves, it can reactivate later in life, causing shingles.[2] Shingles typically presents as a painful, itchy rash that develops on one side of the body and can last for two to four weeks.[3]

“In addition to the pain, my eye was extremely sensitive to light,” said Alice. “I spent most of the next few months hiding in my darkened room, which was not like me.”

Other complications of shingles include scarring, vision complications, secondary infection and nerve palsies.[4] She continued to see specialists to treat ongoing symptoms. “One doctor said, ‘The pain could go away, or it might not.’ I was devastated,” added Alice.

In order to cope with her condition, Alice wrote a musical with 16 songs about her experience with shingles called My Beautiful Darkened World.

“The pain of shingles was overwhelming, but the feelings of isolation were intolerable,” said Alice, “I dealt with shingles the only way I knew how — by writing songs about my experience.”

Before her diagnosis, she didn’t think shingles was a concern for a healthy person her age. She didn’t know that the disease was more common than she thought, with approximately one in three people in the United States at risk for shingles in their lifetime.[5]

Alice learned firsthand that shingles doesn’t play favorites. After living with shingles-related eye complications for six months, Alice returned to good health and made it a priority to get vaccinated to help prevent shingles.

As a GSK spokesperson, Alice has now dedicated herself to educating others about shingles. “I’m doing everything I can to help others understand that if you’re age 50 or over, chances are that you may be at risk for developing shingles.”

If you’re 50 years of age and older, talk to your doctor about vaccination against shingles. Vaccination will help reduce the risk of developing shingles and the potential long-term pain from post-herpetic neuralgia, a common complication caused by the disease.

For more information, visit www.ShinglesDoesntPlayFavorites.com.

This is one person’s experience; other people’s experience with shingles may be different.

Content sponsored by GSK.



[1] CDC. Shingles (Herpes Zoster). About Shingles (Herpes Zoster). Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/index.html

[2] CDC. CDC Recommends Shingles Vaccine Press Release. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/media/pressrel/2008/r080515.htm

[3] CDC. Shingles (Herpes Zoster). Signs & Symptoms Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/symptoms.html

[4] Nair PA, Patel BC. Herpes Zoster (Shingles) [Updated 2019 Nov 22]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441824/

[5] CDC. Vaccine Information Statements (VISs). Live Shingles VIS. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/shingles.html

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