A 2015 study from the Mayo Clinic found that patients with childhood asthma were more likely to develop shingles between the ages of 50 and 80. The findings that appeared in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI) were based on previous research that began in 2013.
Several years ago, the same team of pediatric asthma researchers published a related study examining possible connections between asthma, immune dysfunctions and infections. Now, they claim that adults with a history of asthma beginning in childhood are 70 percent more likely to develop shingles. There is enough evidence to suggest that asthma is a newly recognized risk factor for shingles, also called herpes zoster or zoster. Shingles can cause painful skin rashes that are triggered by a reactivation of the chickenpox virus.
Shingles Risks in Patients with Asthma
It has been suggested that the chronic and systematic effects of asthma don’t just involve the respiratory system. The lung disease may indicate compromised immune function that can lead to skin and airway infections, including pneumonia and ear infections. By gathering data from a large number of patients, researchers were able to establish a link between asthma and shingles while ruling out possible connections with corticosteroids that are commonly used in inhalers.
However, bronchial asthma isn’t the only possible risk factor for developing shingles. Experts also say that children with baby eczema, officially known as atopic dermatitis, are more likely to develop shingles than other groups. According to the JACI study, shingles occurred in about 8 percent of healthy patients in the control group. The rate of occurrence was 12 percent in participants with a history of eczema.
Dr. Young J. Juhn, one of the study’s lead researchers, said that singles is one of the top five most burdensome chronic diseases. It affects nearly 17 percent of the population and one in three adults by age 80. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 1 million new shingles cases per year. The disease often strikes people between the ages of 50 and 59. The number of cases per 1,000 adults has increased by nearly 37 percent over the past 20 years.
The painful rash and infamous irritation is caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV). This is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Although there are now vaccines for chickenpox, 98 percent of U.S. adults have had chickenpox and could experience shingles. Because VZV stays in the body for life, it can reactivate years or decades after the initial infection. Although all individuals who have had chickenpox are at risk for developing shingles, most people never do. Shingles and associated complications are more common in individuals with compromised immune activity, but singles can also strike those who are otherwise healthy. That’s why Dr. Juhn and a team of experts at the Pediatric Asthma Epidemiology Research Unit set out to identify other risk factors.
The team analyzed data from more than 1,100 medical records in Olmsted County, Minnesota, where the Mayo Clinic is located. The study included 371 cases of shingles and 742 control subjects with an average age of 67.
They found that 23 percent of shingles patients and 15 percent of healthy controls had asthma. This equates to a 70 percent greater risk for developing shingles among asthmatics.
The medical records established another causal link between eczema and shingles. Based on the review, there’s a strong independent correlation with asthma and shingles and with eczema and shingles.
Dr. Juhn says that adults with a history of childhood asthma and other previously unrecognized risk factors can benefit from the shingles vaccine, which has been available in the United States since 2006. According to Juhn, immunization should be considered or recommended to patients who are at least 50 years old and who have a history of asthma or eczema.
Trials show that vaccination can reduce the incidence of the disease by 51 percent. It also reduces the risk of a prolonged outbreak by 67 percent. It’s common for shingles symptoms to last up to 4 weeks. However, some patients can have multiple flare-ups and prolonged symptoms. Vaccines could be beneficial to these patients since hospitalization is more common in adults with suppressed or weakened immune systems.
In conclusion, causal mechanisms that link asthma and eczema to a higher risk of shingles have not been identified or confirmed. Further studies are needed to show how childhood asthma could cause the dormant shingles virus to reactivate decades later.