WHEN presenter Eammon Holmes woke up with blisters on his face one morning, he had no idea what had happened.
But just before that special day four years ago, he was floored by shingles, a condition that causes a painful rash.
It’s caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox – meaning if you had the bug as a kid – you’re at risk of developing it.
A report from GSK states that 90 per cent of adults have had chickenpox – meaning you could also be at risk of shingles.
Now Eamonn is trying to raise awareness of the condition as he says the illness has become a ‘big secret’.
Speaking to The Sun, Eamonn, who was 58 at the time, said that when you’re poorly and in the public eye, many people just expect you to just ‘suck it up’.
He said: “I was floored with it, I didn’t know what it was.
“I woke up with it on my face and when I called the doctor he asked me if I’d had chickenpox.”
It was then Eammon had to call his mum to check if he’d suffered as a child to which she responded with ‘of course you did’.
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You’re more at risk of shingles as you age and this is because the immune system’s ability to fight off bugs becomes weakened.
The varicella-zoster virus lays dormant in your system if you’ve had chickenpox and can reactivate at a later date.
Eamonn said he believes stress triggered his case of shingles.
He said: “It was a stressful period of time for me and it came out of the blue.
“I was in court with the inland revenue, which was just a brutal experience.”
He added that this had been the second most stressful thing that had ever happened to him, with the death of his father being the first.
But being in the public eye, Eamonn said there was a perception that he just had to ‘get on with it’.
I was just hideous looking and all I can see is that one eye is closed
However, he wasn’t able to appear on TV as he said no amount of makeup would have covered up the blisters.
Eammon had shingles just two days before his son got married and said it was the worst timing.
“He’s my eldest son so it was the first wedding in the house.
“It was a big thing to be there and now I can’t even look at the photos from that day because I was just hideous looking and all I can see is that one eye is closed.
“I felt like I’d been a disappointment to him on his big day,” he added.
NEVER TOO YOUNG
He had been on holiday at the time in Abu Dhabi with his family and brushed his back on the edge of the swimming pool.
Speaking to The Sun, he said he remembers asking his mum if she had put the suncream on him properly, as it felt like he was burnt.
“At first I thought it was heat rash and I didn’t think anything more of it.
“I got changed and put on my trousers but they started to rub too.”
James, 44, said that his mum said it looked like shingles, which he dismissed as he thought it was just for old people.
What are the symptoms of shingles and what does the rash look like?
The most common first signs of shingles are tingling or pains in patches of the skin.
Headaches are also the first symptoms to appear.
A rash can then start to crop up, usually on the chest or stomach — but it can also appear on the face, eyes and genitals, according to the NHS.
A shingles rash appears as red blotches on your skin, on one side of your body only.
So it’s important to know a rash on both the left and right of your body is unlikely to be shingles.
The blotches become itchy blisters that ooze fluid, before the blisters dry out and scab a few days later.
The rash can form a band that only appears on one side of your body.
It can often be painful until after the rash has gone.
You should speak to a GP as soon as you suspect you have shingles as medication can speed up recovery.
This works best if it’s taken within three days of symptoms starting.
However it’s best to have an appointment over the phone, to avoid coming into contact with someone more vulnerable.
He added: “It continued the whole time I was on holiday, I was getting in and out of the pool and it was just so painful.”
Like Eamonn, James said he had recently also been through a traumatic experience, losing his father.
“I’d lost my dad so I was very stressed and learning more about it now, I know that acute stress can bring on things like shingles.”
James had lost his father to glioblastoma a year before and had been away with his family to mark the first anniversary of his death.
He had been in the room when medics told his dad that he had just 12 months to live.
James said: “I started my grief that day and then I grieved again when we lost him.
“It was the worst thing I’ve ever been through, to see your hero slip away like that and slowly die.”
While on holiday James had been trying to relax and, but said part of his brain had still been thinking about it.
“It was just one thing after another,” he added.
INFORMATION IS POWER
Both Eamonn and James said it took them both around three weeks to recover and are now urging Brits to try and understand the illness.
“Information is power, you shouldn’t be afraid to seek out doctors or pharmacists.
“Tell them about your blisters as soon as you can so you can get diagnosed early, otherwise it will develop into an awful mess,” Eamonn said.
There is a misconception, James said, that it’s just older people who get it, a notion he also fell victim to.
“But if we talk about it openly, more people will start to discuss it and then they will understand,” James added.
Marian Nicholson, Director, Shingles Support Society said while most people have heard of the illness, awareness is surprisingly low.
“As a result, many myths and misperceptions exist. While it can be relatively mild for many, shingles can be a very painful, and sometimes devastating experience for others.
“This pain is described as burning, shooting, stabbing or even constant unbearable itching and some people can experience pain for months, or longer, and it is very difficult to treat.
“Because treatment needs to be started promptly to be effective, it is very important that people see their doctor if they think they have shingles or if they are concerned and want more information.”
Understanding Shingles is a campaign by GSK supported by Eammon Holmes and James Jordan, in partnership with the Shingles Support Society and Age UK. For more information visit www.understandingshingles.co.uk