As baby boomers march toward retirement at the rate of 10,000 a day, they are encountering unexpected ailments along the way. These are not diseases that will kill them but nuisances that remind them they are aging.
And aging is not something baby boomers take in stride, as evidenced by Botox and Viagra.
Among the ailments being diagnosed in increasing numbers as middle age attacks America’s most populous generation are these five: shingles, vertigo, tinnitus, weakened depth perception and menopausal acne.
More people check into the doctor’s office with such afflictions because they’re living longer and discovering new issues, said Dr. Michael Link, a family practitioner in Kissimmee, Fla.
“My practice has aged with me,” said Link, who opened his office 30 years ago.
Though doctors struggle to explain why the immune system takes a dip between ages 40 and 50, they suggest the best way to avoid these irritants is to practice a healthful lifestyle.
“The key to middle age is to stay active, eat healthy and don’t give up,” said Dr. Seth Johnson, a family practitioner in Altamonte Springs, Fla.
Here are some ways to slow down and combat these five common baby-boomer ailments:
This painful skin rash occurs when the virus that caused chickenpox during childhood returns for round two.
Before age 50, the chance of developing shingles is just 1 percent to 2 percent. But after 50, that chance nearly doubles: 2 percent to 3 percent.
A vaccine can decrease the likelihood of contracting shingles, but Johnson doesn’t recommend it for patients younger than 50. The vaccine cuts the risk in half, but it costs $200 to $300.
“If you have a pain you can’t explain for a day or two and then see a rash, contact your physician,” Johnson said.
If untreated, the virus can cause tender water blisters and worse.
“It can lead to nerve damage and pain for years to come,” said Dr. J. Matthew Knight, a dermatologist in Orlando, Fla.
The most effective treatment is anti-viral medication used within 72 hours of an outbreak, he said.
A sensation of dizziness, benign vertigo is most likely caused by natural aging or a head trauma that lodges tiny crystals into the wrong area of the ear. This sends bad information to the brain and knocks off the sense of balance, said Dr. J. Daniel Mancini, Winter Park internal-medicine practitioner.
Vertigo can happen to anyone of any age, but it is more common among patients aged 40 to 60.
“Every time they lie down or roll over, the whole room starts spinning for 10 to 30 seconds,” said Winter Park ear, nose and throat specialist Dr. Jeffrey Baylor.
If you suspect you have vertigo, Baylor recommends being tested by an ear, nose and throat specialist to rule out more-extreme causes such as a tumor or stroke.
If correctly diagnosed by a doctor, benign positional vertigo is treatable through the Epley maneuver, said Dr. Clifford Dubbin, an Orlando ENT specialist.
The Epley maneuver involves sequential movements of the head, staying in each of the four positions for 30 seconds.
“If you know you have it, you can save a week or two of misery and do the maneuver,” he said.
Dubbin also said benign vertigo can slowly disappear on its own over time.
Reading glasses often become a necessity for aging eyes, but many Americans don’t realize that depth perception also can become an issue, even creating a driving hazard.
As vision deteriorates over time, Johnson said, eyes can become less symmetrical. For instance, one eye might see things near while the other sees far. This difference affects depth perception.
Research shows that as depth perception begins to deteriorate, one of the most dangerous driving maneuvers is a left turn in traffic, said AARP spokesman Dave Bruns. The advocacy group has created a defensive-driving program that includes strategies for dealing with depth-perception loss.
Along with dulled depth perception, baby boomers might find that they can’t see as well in dim light, which also affects their driving abilities.
That ringing, buzzing, hissing, sizzling sound in your ears has a name: tinnitus. And it’s fairly common among baby boomers.
“A lot of us grew up listening to hard rock in the ’70s and ’80s, and it can take a toll,” Mancini said. The condition can last for a week to several years.
Tinnitus is related to high-frequency hearing loss, Baylor said, and is cumulative.
“Even when you’re not at the point of hearing loss, one thing you’ll start noticing is a high-pitched ring,” he said.
The ringing of the ears makes up for the absence of sound, and once you hear a ring, it’s likely to recur.
There isn’t a tried-and-true solution for tinnitus, but Baylor said that for patients who have hearing loss and wear hearing aids, there’s a 50 percent to 70 percent chance of recovering from tinnitus.
To prevent the condition, wear earplugs to loud concerts and ear protection at a shooting range, he said.
It’s like being a teenager all over again: Oily skin and red bumps can reappear around the time women enter menopause.
As a teenager, acne develops because of a surge in hormones, Knight said. During menopause, estrogen levels drop and testosteronelike compounds form, causing acne. Menopausal acne might not be as severe as a teenager’s, but it could last as long as one to two years.
“You do see people who spent their whole adult life without acne” only to develop it at the onset of menopause, Knight said. “And it’s frustrating” for them.
Retinoids, more commonly known as Retin-A, help prevent and deal with acne, said Knight. In addition to reducing puffy oil glands, the topical medicine also combats fine lines, wrinkles and skin cancers.