Definition

What is shingles?

  • Shingles is a painful skin rash and it results from the varicella zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Although when the chickenpox infection goes away, the virus may exist in your nervous system for years before it restarts as shingles. Shingles may also be referred to as herpes zoster.
  • Although anywhere on your body can be affected by shingles, it most often appears as a single stripe of blisters that wraps around both side of your torso.
  • The old and people who have weak immune systems have the highest risk of shingles because of stress, injury, certain medicines, or other reasons.
  • Shingles may be not a life-threatening condition but it is very painful. So it is necessary to discover it as soon as possible and have early treatment can help shorten a shingles infection and lessen the chance of complications.

How common is shingles?

Shingles is extremely common. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of shingles?

The first symptoms of shingles are usually pain and burning. The pain is usually on one side of the body and occurs in small patches. A red rash typically follows.

Rash characteristics include:

  • Red patches
  • Fluid-filled blisters that break easily
  • A rash that wraps around from the spine to the torso
  • A rash on the face and ears
  • Itching

Some people experience symptoms beyond pain and rash with shingles. These symptoms may include:

  • A fever
  • Chills
  • A headache
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness

Rare and serious complications of shingles include:

  • Pain or rash that involves the eye, which should be treated in order to avoid permanent eye damage
  • Loss of hearing or intense pain in one ear, dizziness, or loss of taste on your tongue, which can be symptoms of ramsay hunt syndrome
  • Bacterial infections, which you may have if your skin becomes red, swollen, and warm to the touch

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?

You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • The pain and rash occur near an eye. If left untreated, this infection can lead to permanent eye damage.
  • You’re 70 or older, because age significantly increases your risk of complications.
  • You or someone in your family has a weakened immune system (due to cancer, medications or chronic illness).
  • The rash is widespread and painful.

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.

Causes

What causes shingles?

  • The varicella-zoster virus which is the main reason of shingles is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Anyone who’s had chickenpox may develop shingles. After chickenpox is passed away, the virus can enter your nervous system and lie dormant for years. Eventually, it will reactivate and travel along nerve pathways to your skin producing shingles.
  • Some medicines can cause the virus to wake up and cause a shingles rash. It is not clear why this happens. But after the virus becomes active again, it can only cause shingles, not chickenpox.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for shingles?

There are many risk factors for shingles, such as:

  • Being 60 or older
  • Having diseases that weaken the immune system, such as hiv, aids, or cancer
  • Having had chemotherapy or radiation treatment
  • Taking drugs that weaken the immune system, such as steroids or medications given after an organ transplant

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is shingles diagnosed?

  • Most cases of shingles can be diagnosed with a physical examination of rashes and blisters. Your doctor will also ask questions about your medical history.
  • In rare cases, you may need to examine a sample of your skin or the fluid from your blisters. This is related to use a sterile swab to collect a sample of tissue or fluid. Samples are then sent to a medical laboratory to confirm the presence of the virus.

How is shingles treated?

Home treatment can also help ease your symptoms. Home treatments may include:

  • Rest
  • Applying cold, wet compresses to the rash to reduce pain and itching
  • Applying calamine lotion to reduce itching
  • Taking colloidal oatmeal baths to ease pain and itching

There’s no cure for shingles, but prompt treatment with prescription antiviral drugs can speed healing and reduce your risk of complications. These medications include:

  • Acyclovir (Zovirax)
  • Valacyclovir (Valtrex)
  • Famciclovir (Famvir)

Shingles can cause severe pain, so your doctor also may prescribe:

  • Capsaicin cream
  • Anticonvulsants, such as gabapentin (Neurontin)
  • Tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline
  • Numbing agents, such as lidocaine, delivered via a cream, gel, spray or skin patch
  • Medications that contain narcotics, such as codeine
  • An injection including corticosteroids and local anesthetics

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage shingles?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with shingles:

Vaccines can help keep you from developing severe shingles symptoms or complications from shingles.

Shingles is contagious. If you become infected, certain steps must be taken to prevent the spread of the infection, including:

  • Keeping your rash covered
  • Avoiding contact with people who haven’t had chickenpox or who have weakened immune systems
  • Frequent handwashing

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.

Review Date: June 27, 2017 | Last Modified: June 27, 2017

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