Know the basics
What is herpes zoster?
Herpes zoster, also called shingles, is an uncomfortable and often very painful outbreak of skin blisters and sores. Fortunately, some medicines can help relieve symptoms and prevent complications.
Most people over age 50 or have a weakened immune system have develop shingles. Nowadays, a vaccine (Zostavax) is available for prevention in people 60 years and older.
How common is herpes zoster?
This herpes zoster is common. It can affect people older than 50 years old. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
Know the symptoms
What are the symptoms of herpes zoster?
The virus lives in nerves near the spine. Activated virus travels along the nerves to the skin. It then causes a rash on the skin in groups or bands at the nerve endings. The rash usually stays as a band going across part of the body on one side. However, there are cases where the rash occur anywhere. For example, shingles on the face can involve the eyes, which is serious and can cause scarring and blindness.
Early symptoms are mild itching, tingling, pain, headache, fever, or flulike syndrome. As the condition progress, the rash start to appear. They consist of many small, fluid-filled blisters in groups that dry, scab over, and heal (like chickenpox) in a few weeks. Despite how itchy it is, you should avoid scratching at all cost. Scratching the rash can get a bacterial infection.
You might experience an amount of pain with the rash. A few people, especially those older than 50, can have pain (called postherpetic neuralgia) for more than 30 days. It can be very severe and interfere with daily activity.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
Know the causes
What causes herpes zoster?
The cause of herpes zoster is varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After people have chickenpox, the virus usually stays inactive. However, as the body’s antibodies to this virus decrease with time, the virus can become active and cause shingles. It usually takes a long time, more than a decade, for the varicella-zoster virus to be active again.
People who have not been vaccinated for chickenpox can catch it from someone with active shingles.
Know the risk factors
What increases my risk for herpes zoster?
There are many risk factors for herpes zoster, such as:
- Having had chickenpox. You must have had chickenpox to get shingles.
- Being older than 50.
- Having a weakened immune system due to another disease, such as diabetes or HIV infection.
- Experiencing stress or trauma.
- Having cancer or receiving treatment for cancer.
- Taking medicines that affect your immune system, such as steroids or medicines that are taken after having an organ transplant.
Understand the diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is herpes zoster diagnosed?
The doctor will diagnose shingles by examining the skin. Your doctor will be able to tell herpes zoster by its blisters and sores at your spine. Blood tests are rarely needed. Blister fluid may be studied if the diagnosis is unclear.
How is herpes zoster treated?
Herpes zoster usually goes away after a few weeks on their own. The main goals are to shorten the infection, reduce discomfort, and prevent complications. If you are diagnosed early (within 2 or 3 days), your doctor will give you antiviral medicines, such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir, to reduce the rash and pain. Antiviral medicine, started early (within 2 or 3 days), can help the rash and pain. You might also need other drugs and lotions can help with pain and itching, as well as reduce scarring when the blisters heal.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage herpes zoster?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with herpes zoster:
- Keep areas affected by the rash clean.
- Apply cool, wet compresses to the rash to ease pain.
- Take an over-the-counter pain reliever or anti-inflammatory drug, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others).
If facial weakness makes it difficult for you to close one of your eyes, take the following steps to protect your vision:
- Use moisturizing eyedrops throughout the day if your eye becomes dry.
- At night, apply ointment to the eye and tape your eyelid shut or wear an eye patch.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
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Ramsay Hunt syndrome. http://www.drugs.com/mcd/ramsay-hunt-syndrome. Accessed June 13, 2016.
Shingles and chickenpox (Varicella-zoster virus). http://umm.edu/health/medical/reports/articles/shingles-and-chickenpox-varicellazoster-virus. Accessed June 13, 2016.
Review Date: January 4, 2017 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017