Is Shingles Common with COPD?

This article was reviewed by Senior Director of Community Engagement and COPD360social Community Manager, Bill Clark, as well as certified staff Respiratory Therapists on February 24, 2020.

Dear COPD Coach,

I am 57 years old and have COPD. Friends of mine have told me that I should consider getting a “shingles” shot. Is shingles common with COPD?

—A “Rash” Decision

Dear Decision,

Shingles is a painful rash with blisters that usually heal after a few weeks but in some people, there is a common complication of shingles which is long-lasting, difficult to treat and sometimes debilitating nerve pain called “postherpetic neuralgia” (PHN); this pain can last months or even years. The shingles rash resembles poison ivy or poison oak and can cause permanent scaring. Shingles forming around the eye can lead to eye infections and vision impairment. Shingles infections inside or near the ear can cause Ramsay Hunt syndrome, where the facial nerves become paralyzed. Ramsay Hunt syndrome can cause hearing and balance problems, as well as weakness of the muscles on the affected side of the face

You can get shingles only if you have had the chicken pox in the past as the virus that causes it (varicella zoster virus) remains dormant in your nerve cells. If at some point later in your life your immune system weakens, the virus awakens (reactivates) and causes shingles.

Your risk of getting shingles and post herpetic neuralgia increases as you get older, and if you have a compromised immune system to begin with, the risk is multiplied. If you have never had the chickenpox, you cannot get shingles, but you cannot always know whether you had it as young people and children often have a mild disease. If you have had shingles in the past, you are likely to have it again in the future.

The US Center for Disease control recommends that all adults over the age of 50 get vaccinated. As of 2017 the recommended vaccine is the recombinant zoster vaccine (RZV, Shingrix) which is given as two injections approximately 6 months apart. In adults over 60 who may be sensitive to its ingredients there is another option the Zoster vaccine live (ZVL, Zostavax) which has been used in the US since 2006.

As you might have gathered, shingles is nothing to take lightly. People with COPD often have weakened or compromised immune systems and are at a great risk of developing shingles.

We would advise all people with COPD and their caregivers to talk with their doctor about getting the shingles vaccine. Insurance may not cover the vaccine (Medicare covers the shingles vaccine under the Medicare Part D plan, but not under Medicare Parts A and B) but the cost of this preventative treatment pales in comparison to having to suffer through an outbreak.

Hope this helps!

The COPD Coach

Coaches Corner is aimed at providing information for individuals with COPD to take to your doctor, and is not in any way intended to be medical advice. If you would like to submit a question to the Coaches Corner email us at [email protected] We would love to hear your questions and comments. You can address your emails to The COPD Coach.


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