What I Thought Was Eczema, Turned Out to be Shingles

I recently went through a rough few weeks with a bout of shingles. You know the one they tell us we should all get the vaccination for? I didn’t listen. I was always going to get around to it, but everything else got in the way. Besides, I had had shingles over 10 years ago, so maybe I was less likely to get it again. All excuses. It kept being put off. But I’ve learned my lesson, this time I will get that vaccination, although I’ve been told I now must wait a year after this outbreak.

This is not something anyone wants to have happened, especially during a pandemic, when our overworked doctors are doing everything by phone. Telehealth to the rescue.

Red bumpy patches on one side

It started out very innocuously, with an odd feeling sore throat and ear just on one side that lasted less than a day. And a very sore spot just below that ear. Then what I thought were eczema patches started below the ear, on the back of my neck/lower back of my head. All on just one side. The red bumpy patches were sore and itchy, and my cortisone cream didn’t seem to do anything, but it wasn’t until they became a more burning type of pain that I started to consider something other than atopic dermatitis. By the time I spoke with the doctor,  one side of my face was starting to tingle as well. Definitely not eczema! The red bumps were just that; itchy, burning clusters.

A trip to the emergency room

Since the doctor wasn’t able to see me in person, I was sent to the ER, all the time worrying that these “eczema patches” were putting me in jeopardy of coming in contact with the Coronavirus. There are almost no positive cases where I live, but it only takes one!

With no hair in the way as I have alopecia universalis, the doctors were able to easily see the three main clusters. Although the band of my wig sitting right on top of one cluster was uncomfortable, to say the least. After a few hours and many tests to rule out anything else, they sent me home with a diagnosis of “probably” shingles. Go home and watch to see if the little red bumps become blisters, which they started to the next morning. I began the anti-virals immediately. Thank goodness for medications! And thank goodness I took advantage of telehealth and called when I did!

Eczema patches around shingles clusters

As the clusters slowly dried up and scabbed over, it made for an interesting Christmas and New Years'. The areas around these clusters are now more dry, flaky, and itchy than painful. This definitely feels like eczema. Just in places I’ve never had any flares before. I’m hoping that it will be a one time flare, not the start of a recurring problem area. I really don’t want to have the band of my wig always sitting on top of an eczema flare. Of course, I could get brave and just go out bald!

I am very lucky that the pain has not turned into postherpetic neuralgia, a long-lasting painful reminder of shingles. It can be quite painful and occurs in up to 10% of patients, or even up to 20% in those over 80.1 

If you’re over 50, please get the shingles vaccine!

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