What is Shingles?
Shingles is a viral infection caused by varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. It appears as bands of painful blisters that wrap around your torso. Once you have had chickenpox, it lies dormant in the brain and spinal cord nerve tissues. As you age, this virus may reappear as shingles.
While not a life-threatening illness, shingles can be extremely painful. Getting medical help early can help lessen the course of the disease and its complications. Postherpetic neuralgia (or nerve pain caused by the virus) can continue to produce pain long after your blisters have gone.
Shingles is not necessarily contagious, but if your shingles is in the blister stage, it may be likely to spread. Covering the rash is an effective way to make sure to keep yourself and others safe from the risk of infection.
Signs, Symptoms, and Seeing Your Physician
If you develop any of these signs and symptoms, contact your physician at once:
- Pain, burning, numbness or tingling
- Touch and/or light sensitivity
- Red rash beginning several days after pain; rash near eyes can be especially damaging if not treated promptly
- Blisters filled with fluid that crust over after opening
Diagnosis and Treatment of Shingles
Shingles is usually diagnosed by one-sided body pain and rash, and blisters. Your physician may even take tissue samples (cultures) of your rash or swab your blisters for laboratory analysis.
Once you are diagnosed with shingles, your physician will prescribe one of a family of antiviral drugs to aid healing and prevent complications. Shingles typically last anywhere from two to six weeks.
Your physician may also prescribe topical pain medications or numbing agents for the pain, numbness, or tingling associated with your diagnosis of shingles.
Your physician may also recommend home shingles treatments such as a cool bath or cool, wet compresses on the blisters. Over-the-counter shingles cream such as EMUAID® First Aid Ointment or EMUAIDMAX® First Aid Ointment may also be part of your treatment regimen as a preferred natural treatment choice. With regular treatment and care, one can reduce the symptoms of shingles.
Complications of Shingles
Postherpetic Neuralgia (PHN)
While shingles may last anywhere from two to six weeks, are complications that can last longer. One of the most common is postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). PHN develops in the same location(s) as the original rash after the rash has cleared, lasting months or even years after your initial diagnosis. The severity and debilitating nature of (PHN) pain can sideline you from even routine, daily tasks. If you are over 50, your risk of developing postherpetic neuralgia is anywhere from 10-18%, with a greater level of pain and longer-lasting effects.
Even though shingles is viral in nature, bacterial infections may still occur. The rash associated with shingles produces fluid-filled blisters that itch and break open. However, once those blisters open, the fluid inside leaks out and can be spread to other open sites and cause infection. Antibiotics from your physician will help heal the infection and keep scars to a minimum.
Shingles infections that form on the face are especially worrisome because of the proximity to the eyes. Facial pain and blisters on nose are early warning signs of potentially harmful complications.
If you experience any of the following eye issues, contact your physician right away:
- Decrease in vision
- Eye pain/discomfort
- Eye redness
- Eye/eyelid swelling
- Light sensitivity
Your doctor may have you see an eye specialist for more detailed care and treatment, if indicated.
Since one of the areas the shingles virus activates is the nerve tissues of the brain, facial complications are possible. Known as Ramsey Hunt syndrome, its symptoms include one-sided facial rash, ear pain of high severity, and one-sided facial muscle weakness and drooping. Dizziness, loss of hearing and taste, ear ringing also may occur.
Your physician may choose to add steroids or tranquilizers for hearing loss and dizziness. While in some cases, facial weakness and loss of hearing do not resolve, most patients recover with no lasting damage.
Shingles affecting the brain is called herpes zoster encephalitis. This is a rare complication but can have severe effects as it causes brain swelling. It starts with a rash just as common shingles, but rapidly escalates with added symptoms of headaches, vomiting, fever, and confusion.
Treatment for herpes zoster encephalitis requires hospitalization. While hospitalized, patients are given IV antiviral drugs for seizure and swelling control. This allows the drugs to enter your system rapidly to ensure prompt recovery within about three weeks.
Anyone who has had chickenpox can develop shingles. This includes even children. Symptoms include burning or shooting pain, tingling, itching, fever, one-sided body rashes/blisters. If you are 50 or older, talk to your primary care physician about the shingles vaccine for risk reduction. Keep any rash you may have during active shingles covered to avoid the spread of the virus. The average length of disease is three to five weeks. It is possible to have shingles more than once during your lifetime. If you feel you may have shingles or are having any of the above symptoms, please contact your physician as soon as possible.
Five Things You Need to Know About Shingles.
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5 Complications of Shingles.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.gov. (2019, July 1).
Shingles (Herpes Zoster)