Shingles is a type of viral infection common among adults. One in three American adults gets the condition at some point in their life. The cases are usually seen in adults aged over 60 years. The older you get, the higher the chances you have of acquiring a shingle infection. People aged over 70 years are more at risk than those younger than 70. However, it affects anyone who has had a chickenpox infection at any point in their life. This is because the virus resides dominantly in your nerves long after the chickenpox is cured. It then becomes activated years later to cause a shingle infection.
It is also seen in people who have a weak immune system. This means that they are unable to fight off disease effectively. As such, they are at a high risk of getting shingle infections. Groups of people with a weak immune system include the elderly and people with chronic illnesses like cancer. Stress and extreme cold can also weaken your immune system for a while and make you susceptible to the infection. These two factors are known to activate the dormant virus in several people. The condition can, however, affect people of all ages. Children who have had chickenpox can also get the infection.
Due to the nature of the infection, it is advisable to immediately seek medical attention after noticing the disease’s symptoms. Failure to do this will have consequences. The most significant consequences are that the infection will last longer than usual, and you will likely develop complications of the disease.
Causes and symptoms of shingle infections
The infection is caused by a herpes virus known as varicella-zoster. The virus initially causes chickenpox and, later, shingle infection. The former is a self-limiting disease that lasts shorter than the latter. However, shingle infection is a more severe disease because the skin develops a painful rash, while for chickenpox, the rash is painless. Shingle infections are limited to one part of the body and face, whether the right or left.
Shingle infections are also contagious because the virus can be spread to a person who has never been infected by the virus. The virus is spread by oozing blisters. This can happen by sharing personal items like towels that come into contact with the blister’s ooze. When the person gets infected by the virus for the first time, they will get a chickenpox infection instead of the shingle infection. Risk factors of the shingle infection include old age, stress, and a weak immune system.
Symptoms that are common in many patients with the infection include:
- An itchy rash
- Numbing pain
- Burning of the skin
- Blisters full of fluid
- Tingling sensation
Less common in the patients are symptoms like fever, chills, and constant headaches.
How long does shingles normally last?
Shingle infections last roughly three to five weeks. In some patients, the infection can heal, but the pain persists for several months. This happens when you develop a complication known as post-herpetic neuralgia. This is a complication that results from nerve damage by the varicella-zoster virus. The pain from the neuralgia can linger for three months or more in some patients, while in others, it goes away within a short period.
The timeframe of the condition is as follows:
- You will notice pain and skin sensitivity a few days before the appearance of the shingle rash.
- You will notice a red rash developing on the sensitive skin in the following two to five days. This is the best time to seek medical treatment from a dermatologist.
- After a few days, the rash will turn to blisters that are filled with fluid.
- After 10 days of the appearance of blisters, they will start to burst open and ooze.
- The oozing blisters form a scab that heals after roughly two weeks, or less if you find a good shingles cream.
The exact length of the shingles infection will depend on two main things:
How early you seek treatment
The earlier you begin treatment of the infection, the shorter the disease will last. The infection can last as short as three weeks when you seek treatment within seven days of rash appearance. Preferably, you should seek treatment within three days of noticing the rash. The longer you stay without seeking medical attention, the more severe the pain you will experience, and the more likely the rash will spread to other areas. Spreading of the rash makes the infection painful and prolongs the healing duration.
The level of management of the infection
Proper management of the infection fastens healing, reducing the period of infection. The management should entail antiviral medications. This is because these drugs prevent the replication of the virus and prevent its spread in the body. However, management is not limited to medications; it also involves using a good cream for shingles to relieve itching and inflammation. This helps soothe the burning sensation on the skin and also reduces redness.
A good cream for shingles will also reduce the level of scarring as the condition heals. Hygiene is also an essential aspect of shingle infection management. Although a shingles cream can help with the infection’s skin presentation, it does not prevent the blisters from bursting and oozing. Therefore, good hygiene of the open blisters will prevent the spread of the infection to unaffected areas. When the infection spreads, it prolongs the infection period.