ShinglesI went to the doctor last Wednesday because I had a really nasty earache, which felt like someone was stabbing my inner ear with a pin. Each time, the pain would only last for a split second but it would make my eyes water and part of my body twitch. I was surprised when the doctor said my ear looked clear. I then briefly mentioned that when I even lightly touched my eyebrow, forehead and my scalp on the left side, it felt like I had pimples growing but nothing was there. He confirmed there was nothing there but said it sounded like Shingles. I didn’t even know what Shingles were so he gave me a quick tutorial. When I left I asked what the chances were that I actually had Shingles. He estimated 50/50 and wrote me a prescription for Valtrex, just in case anything popped up.
Mall of America 2015 -029I initially thought he had misdiagnosed me because I thought it was for sure a sinus infection since I had had an upper respiratory infection the week before while in Minnesota and Canada.

But of course, I was wrong, because the next afternoon I felt something on my forehead. I was lying in bed and downloaded the free mirror app on my iPhone and when I saw red marks on my forehead, I jumped out of bed like I’d just seen a ghost and went directly to the bathroom mirror. I snapped a photo and texted it to my doc with the question, “SHINGLES?!” He wrote back immediately and said YES and told me to get on Valtrex ASAP. I was at the pharmacy within twenty minutes.

The following morning I felt the Shingles creep under my eyebrow so I texted my doctor again since everything I read said it could cause blindness. He recommended I go see an ophthalmologist and referred me to a doctor. That doctor squeezed me in on a Friday afternoon (I waited almost two hours in his office but didn’t care). I got tested, learned I had 20/20 vision and that I should be okay but if it gets worst to call him so I can get on antibiotic eye drops.

What was cool about seeing this doctor is that he sees a lot of patients with Shingles and confirmed that I did indeed have the disease and recommended I go on a higher dose of Valtrex. Instead of 1 gram twice a day, he told me to take it three times a day.

Thompson Miami Beach

I then asked what causes Shingles and he said it’s usually brought on by stress. I didn’t think I was that stressed until I looked back at my hectic week. From Toronto, I’d gotten up super early to take a 6am flight to Miami for a lunch meeting that never happened. Then, my hotels didn’t allow me to get any sleep (here’s my story on how I had to change rooms five times in three days).

Photo by @salvadorochoa
Photo by @salvadorochoa

A few days later, I flew back to L.A. on an early flight and hit the ground running. I had to get my house cleaned for my buddy who was coming into town, pick him up. Drive to Long Beach for a couple of cocktail parties and a speaker’s dinner for the L.A. Travel and Adventure Show, at which I gave two talks the following morning. The real kicker was probably that my dad’s flight from New York (he was coming in special to see me speak) was delayed by 7 hours and he didn’t land until 4:45am! So I’m pretty sure all of the lack of sleep is what caused it. In fact, writing this is making my Shingles tingle.

This whole Shingles diagnosis has been a learning process. I had no idea that once you have chicken pox, the virus lies dormant in your system and can come out when you are stressed or have a weakened immune system. I did a lot of research and have included the most helpful links below.

One mistake I made was posting that I had the virus on my personal Facebook page (only friends could view it) to see if any of them had the disease and what their experience was. To my surprise, I had nearly 300 comments and 99.9% of them said it was hell, some even going as far to say it is worse than child birth or passing a kidney stone. Gulp.

The best part about posting it on Facebook was that my distant cousin kindly offered up her doctor husband’s advice, which I gladly took since I couldn’t get a hold of my doctor over the weekend. He was kind enough to take the time and speak to me for more than thirty minutes. When I told him the left side of my face was now really swollen, he suggested I get on Prednisone. 40MG at first, then 20mg twice a day for at least a few days. That’s where I’m at now.

He also said that if the rash gets bad, to use aloe gel with at least 90% aloe or Polysporin (so far I haven’t had to use it).

I’ve pretty much cleared my schedule for the next week or so and I’m just taking it easy. Working in bed and watching TV, which I rarely do. I almost feel like I’m back in high school again but sadly I don’t have my mom around to take care of me. And my wife is working in Toronto. So to make sure I could
keep track of the date and times I took my medicines (and to monitor my symptoms), I made a chart and I’ve been diligent about keeping it updated.

One thing that’s been on my mind: What if I’d been on the road and I got Shingles? What would have happened? Luckily, I carry a yearly travel insurance plan from Allianz Travel Insurance (here’s my story). So I asked them and this is what they had to say about what would happen if I were to get shingles on the road:

You would call the Assistance team at Allianz Global Assistance to advise them of your situation.

They would direct you to the closest appropriate medical facility and arrange transportation if you needed it. Our medical team rates medical facilities all over the world, so we know the best place for you to go for treatment.

After you arrive at the medical facility, our medical team will consult with your doctors to make sure you’re receiving proper treatment and determine if you need to be moved to another facility or even brought back to the United States.

At the same time, our Assistance team will contact the medical facility to provide a guarantee of payment, so that you don’t have to pay any costs upfront. Many hospitals outside the U.S. require upfront out of pocket payments from patients who do not have a guarantee of payment.

If you’re hospitalized for more than 7 days during your trip, we’ll arrange and pay for round-trip transportation for a family member to be with you.

If you need to be brought home, we will arrange and pay for medical transportation to a facility near your home and we’ll provide a medical escort if one is necessary.

We will pay reasonable medical costs not paid by your primary insurance provider, up to the limit of your policy.

We will make sure you get home safely and assist you with any questions you may have about filing an insurance claim.

This type of situation happens every day to our customers. Check out a couple (1, 2) of our customer stories.

So there’s my story. I’m thankful that I was home but it seems if I did catch it while on the road but had a good insurance plan, I would be in good hands.

You might want to look into getting the Shingles vaccine. It’s not a guarantee you won’t get it but it’s probably worth it.

Here’s to you never catching Shingles.

Helpful Shingles resources:

46 Comments On "How I Got Shingles From Too Much Travel and How to Avoid It"
  1. FEV7|

    I’m so sorry. I have a friend who had shingles and she also said the pain was unbelievable.

    Please ask your doctor about getting the shingles shot once you have recovered.

    Best wishes for a speedy recovery!

    1. Doreen|

      I had the shingles shot and still got shingles. Doctor said I probably got a lighter case,, having had the shot. But it still hurt!!!

    2. Anonymous|

      I had shingles when I was in my early forties. I thought I had insect bites on my face above my right eye. I finally went to my doctor and was floored by the diagnosis. I thought it was an “old people” condition. He asked me if I was under any stress. He immediately sent to me to an ophamologist ( I’m under Kaiser). I had a prescription for an anti viral medication.

    3. Anonymous|

      Glad to hear you’re on the mend. I too had shingles bec. of stress. It’s awfully painful. Consider the vaccine post-shingles so you lessen the chance of suffering from this horrible ailment. Be well dear travelers.

  2. Daniel Durazo|

    Thanks for sharing and feel better soon!

    1. carole stevesn|

      Yes! Thanks for sharing. Hoping you are better soon.
      I hope that health insurance company will be part of your blog often!

  3. Karen|

    You forgot to mention a very important thing. There is a shot you can get to prevent getting shingles. They recommend it –especially to older people. The shot is expensive but worth the price so you don’t go through this horrendous pain and suffering. No fun. Ask your doctor.

    1. Elizabeth Hansen|

      The shingles shot does NOT prevent shingles. It might mean that you get a mild case, but even the folks selling the shot don’t claim that it prevents anything.

  4. Denise|

    Sleep is very important. We recently had a discussion with our teenage son’s doc about “sleep hygiene” and how critically important it is to our well being and we really need to take it seriously. If you have never tried hypnotherapy, I highly recommend it — just go on youtube to find a site. Plug in your headphones and try it out — sounds kooky but it truly works. Wishing you a smooth road to recovery.

  5. Chuck|

    It looks like your body is telling you to slow down. Running cross country in different time zones over the years is slowly catching up to you. Let’s face it, you are not in 3o’s anyway. Poor diet and lack of sleep plus life stress will awake the shingles inside you. You need to take a real vacation from being Johnny Jet for at least a couple of weeks to recharge your body. Feel better soon.

  6. Kathy Prickett|

    While I seriously doubt if traveling itself was the culprit, I’m still sorry you got shingles! I had it, too, in the left upper quadrant of my face and it looked like yours — and I was in my 30s at the time! Nevertheless, make sure you touch base with your eye doctor, too, to ensure there’s no damage to your eyes, too! I never would’ve thought about getting shingles in your eyes but it was there, too; while I’m told I have scar tissue, fortunately, it didn’t affect my sight. So just a friendly — and important — suggestion!

  7. Marcia Frost|

    I had shingles a few years ago when I too was stressed about an upcoming trip. I agree, it’s worse than childbirth! Mine was across my stomach on the right side from front to back. Before the rash appeared I was sure it was appendicitis.

    I strongly recommend you get a prescription for Lyrica. It is specific for the nerve endings that cause the shingles pain.

    Feel better soon and don’t rush it. And, sorry to say, I do still get some shingles pain when I’m stressed. :(

  8. lee laurino|

    so sorry you are ill, but i thought this only attacked after age 60?

    am headed to the doctor tomorrow for the vaccine! and shall check your travel insurance provider, i need a yearly plan but i need to add what i call “ship me home’ insurance

  9. Suzanne|

    Why didn’t you get immunized against shingles? There has been an inoculation
    on the market for about 20 years! Savvy travelers have taken it. This does not
    mean 100% that you WON’T get shingles, but it would be a very mild case of it.

  10. meredith blevins|

    I got shingles while writing a book for Rodale Press. I’ve had a lot of writing assignments, but this one was stressful beyond belief — when people communicated it was always in anger. At first I thought I had a load of bug bites. (I was away from home.) It got worse.

    Went to the doc when I got home, and he diagnosed ‘the most enthusiastic case of shingles’ he’d ever seen. Generally, it just hits the nerve system on one side of your trunk. That was six years ago. The scars between my ribs look as if someone flayed me with a whip. It was terrible — still tingles when I get stressed.
    THANKS for posting this, Johnny, and take care. Relax that nervous system …

  11. K Hargan|

    Don’t neglect the shingles vaccine once you’ve recovered. You may read that it is not helpful once you’ve had shingles, and you may also read that you can’t get shingles twice… I can attest to the fallacy of that statement. I’ve had it twice. I waited until I was clear the second time and got the vaccine. While the vaccine is only 50% sure, I’d rather have a 50/50 chance than the alternative! Be well….

    1. Cathy Barzo|

      one of the links to this site – FAQ’s about Shingles – said you can get shingles more than once. That’s the question I’ve wanted answered for a long time since I got it about 18 years ago. I keep hearing that it’s a very expensive vaccine. Seems like from the comments many people do get it at a much younger age than we’re accustomed to thinking. Thanks.

  12. tina salter|

    Be sure your wife and your father have had chickenpox disease Or the shingles vaccine Or the chickenpox vaccine–Although chickenpox exposure from another person can’t cause shingles, shingles can cause chickenpox in a person who has not been vaccinated OR has had the disease. You will do fine in the long run!

  13. Wm.Courtney|

    You’ve convinced me to get vacinated now. My now deceased cancerous immunocompromised mother had a bad case after radiation–no fun in the mouth & ear ! I had a bad
    case of chickenpox in childhood. You got good treatment & I hope you have great results.Don’t neglect to see a dermotologist if needed. Also Fentanyl patches for severe pain.

  14. Rich|

    You shouda’ gotten the shingles vaccine!

  15. Vicki Komer|

    Sorry to hear of your shingles, but Allianz sounds like a fabulous company! Does that assistance happen only with an annual policy or for individual trips as well? We traveled to Brazil and I was rushed to the emergency room there. Travelguard/AIG disallowed the fees for translator and new airline tickets to get to our next destination, so I think I’ll investigate Allianz for our next travel plans!

  16. Susan|

    There is a vaccine for shingles. Too late for you – but I recommend it.

  17. Karen|

    Johnny, so sorry to hear about your shingles. One comment deals with the antibiotic drops from the ophthalmologist. My mother came down with shingles many years ago. You mentioned your doctor giveing you antibiotic eye drops. I guess if I were you, I would question this. Why, shingles is caused by a virus, a variety of herpes. I believe an antibiotic is not effective against a virus. Please investigate! I say this because my mother had the shingles go to the cornea of her eye. As a result, she was in pain until she died. Even after many surgeries the pain was still there. My thoughts and prayers are with you, Johnny!

  18. Elizabeth Hansen|

    Your insurance company sounds like a good one, but the best thing to do when you’re traveling is to carry a supply of Valtrex or another effective anti-viral. It’s critical to take the drug as soon as possible after diagnosis (within hours, not days). Sometimes it isn’t easy to get to a doctor when traveling outside of cities. I’ve had shingles twice so I never leave home without a supply of Valtrex. On Facebook, you said you took the drug with an hour or two of being diagnosed, so I think you’ll feel better soon.

  19. William Chinn|

    My doc grabbed me and had me roll up my sleeve. Since it was HMO it was free. Since then I thank the doc every time I see her. Read the above and no matter what the cost you will thank everyone for the shot. Life has a sense of humor and shingles will strike when you need it least. The folks I know who have had it and the pain wish they they had taken the shot.

  20. Lisa Smith|

    Dear John,
    Glad to hear that you are now on the mend and that you are taking some much needed time off!
    Thank you for all that you do to enlighten, inform and entertain us ;).
    I practice mindfulness meditation to help with stress. Need any tips, drop me a note.
    And, yes, shingles is a bugger, so I send you healing thoughts from us here in Australia.

    Take care and rest,
    Lisa x

  21. Kay Dougherty|

    My sister just reminded me that when our father got shingles he said capsaicin saved his life by alleviating the nerve pain. He just got it at a pharmacy – no Rx needed, as far as we recall. Here’s a link about it

  22. Christina @ Christina's Cucina|

    So sorry to hear this, John! The exact same thing happened to my husband the day before we were to leave for Mexico a few years ago (thank goodness it was BEFORE we left). The doctor told him he was to stay out of the sun (which is why I’m wondering why you are on the beach in the photo above?) and that because it was above his eye, he should stay in the US in case it gets into his eye which can cause blindness. We decided the rest of the family would still go to Mexico (my parents and my kids and me) and he’d stay behind, under the watchful eye of our neighbor, a doctor. Thank God he was checking on him as he had to go to ER one night as he was unrecognizable, the shingles were so bad, and had gone into his eye. After 2 days in the hospital, he came home and his eyesight is still 100%, but please make sure to seek medical care immediately if it gets any worse near your eye. And don’t feel like the vaccine would have helped you as I’ve heard terrible things about it, too (also from a nurse). Heal quickly!

  23. David Mudd|

    In order to contract Shingles (Herpes Zoster), you must have been exposed to Chicken Pox (Varicella Zoster) in your lifetime, likely as a child.

    A Shingles patient is not contagious (except to people that have never had Chicken Pox before and it is possible that they could contract that disease from exposure to a Shingles patient.)

    The Shingles Vaccine is approved for people 50 years and older. Your health insurance will probably not pay for it until you are 60 or older though. The out of pocket cost for the vaccine is likely to be in the $200 to $250 range.

    Even after you have had Shingles, it is possible to have it again. So if you have had Shingles once you might want to get the vaccine.

    Hope you feel better. I too believe that stress was the catalyst that brought on my case in 2013. Quick action will likely lessen your symptoms. It took months for the pain and the “rash” to subside in my case.

  24. Anne W.|

    Big fan of your site and newsletters throughout the many years. As a travel lover myself, I enjoyed the in-depth descriptions and photos of your trips from plane ride to destination. I had shingles back in 1991 (in my early twenties) while I was studying abroad at Oxford University. Woke up one morning and felt itchy all over my body and saw a rash. I asked the college for a referral to a GP who examined me and drew some blood. Continued to walk around town, eating lunch, browsing shops with only slight discomfort. Upon returning to my college, someone immediately called a taxi and took me to be admitted to the hospital where I stayed for a week (in a single room of the Infectious Disease ward.) I was informed I had adult onset of chicken pox. (Perhaps Shingles was called differently in England back then) I became stressed and started to feel some pain on my body. Nurses came in to dab lotion on my spots (body and face) to alleviate the pain and itch but overall I felt tired and bored. My classmates visited me @ the hospital and I kept in touch with my family via telephone calls. Eventually I was discharged and met up with my mom in London to start our vacation travels. The scars took another 4-6 months to disappear.

    Fast forward some twenty years later now, I recently got my first Shingles vaccine on the advice of my doctor. Like you, my mom isn’t around anymore. But she left behind in me the love of travel, albeit at a much slower pace than yours. Like good health, travel should be savored and enjoyed. Be well.

    1. Johnny Jet|

      Thank you for sharing your story

  25. mslewis|

    I am really surprised that someone who travels the world like you do has not had a shingles shot. That’s crazy. True, it’s not a guarantee you won’t get shingles but it would be much milder and less likely to put you in bed for days.

  26. Marguerite Laccabue|

    JJ: you could have consulted with your dentist as well. We know about facial shingles since it can run along the nerves that innervate teeth and mouth. I have found that most patients who have shingles have been recently sick with another virus and flying on airplanes exacerbates any kind of sickness, thus leaving one fairly immunocompromised. People should be careful about flying with any kind of illness. Also- it is possible to get it again and same thing- get that Valtrex ASAP

    1. Johnny Jet|

      Thank you for the advice

  27. Jack|

    What happens on the road? Well, you can get medical care, but be careful about recovering too quickly! I came down with shingles while traveling to Honolulu — backache on the plane, weird tingling on one side, could never get comfortable. After checking into my hotel and going to sleep, I woke up in the middle of the night with a stabbing pain in my side and thought that I had either appendicitis or shingles. I thought of shingles only because a friend had recently suffered through it. So a put myself in a cab to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (where some of the movie the Descendants is set), was diagnosed with shingles, and given a boatload of prescriptions. I caught it early so I never had the crazy pain or neuralgia. I was able to attend my meetings, give my speech, and recover to the point where I decided to continue on the next leg of my trip, to America Samoa. After boarding the plane, just as the door closed, my seat mate turned to me and said, “So how about that cyclone?” Wha…? I managed to get to Pago Pago and promptly got stuck there due to a cyclone that made a direct hit on the island. The cyclone damaged the airport runway, precluding me from getting to Apia for meetings and a return flight on the last Air New Zealand flight between Apia and LAX before they cancelled the flight. I spent an extra week in Pago, had to trek back via Honolulu, and generally had the trip from hell. Should have stayed in bed in Honolulu.

    1. Johnny Jet|


  28. Dave|

    Hope you are feeling better now. Thanks for the tips.

  29. Lisa Niver|

    I am so sorry to hear you are sick w/ Shingles. My friend and my dad had it at the same time and they definitely both talked about the pain from the lesions. I am glad you found good medical care. Get well soon! Lisa

  30. lisa|

    I think i might have shingles of the trigeminal nerve, it is in my eye also went to dr. Twice both times he said he didnt have a clue said their was nothing he could do for me . This is aweful, i feel so alone .i live in oregon. If there is some advice u could give .I would be grateful .

    1. Johnny Jet|

      Oh my. I’m sorry. I would try another doctor

  31. Anonymous|

    Johnny jet… how old out of interest are you and your friends. I am 10 days into shingles for a mild case… small patch on chest and a couple dots under my armpit. I believe mine was stress also. I am 39. Thank you for sharing as lots find it embarrassing

    1. Johnny Jet|

      I was 46

      1. jim|

        No recurrence???

        Love your postings. Great name also

  32. Vilma maddock|

    What a coincidence! I have shingles this week – my face is a mess! I’m 81. Thought I had a sinus infection and poison ivy. Like your articles.

  33. Celeste Walker|

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am 38 years old. I too have had alot of stressful events personally and have been traveling alot over the past month. I thought I had a bad ear infection and inflamed mosquito bites above my brow. It was good to know my doc has me on the right protocol. I’m taking 1G Vatrex x3/d and Prednisone also. He jump started me with a steroid and toradol shot in the office. My eye is very itchy tonight so I may also see an opthamologist. I’m very hopeful it will be over soon.

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