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Shingles Herpes Zoster
What are shingles?
The shingles condition is a viral infection of the skin that causes a painful rash. The varicella-zoster virus triggers the condition by infecting a nerve below the surface of the skin. Prescription for shingles comprises antivirals and steroid medications.
Shingles resemble chickenpox. Like the chickenpox, shingles erupts in a painful blister-like rash. However, unlike chickenpox, shingles confines to one area of the body. Pain manifests before the appearance of a rash. Also, it may even continue to be there for a few days after the rash is gone completely.
Usually, only areas of skin supplied by the affected nerves present symptoms of the condition. In people with particularly weak immune systems, shingles may present on both sides of the body.
The most common symptoms of the condition are pain and rash.
Most often, the affected nerves are those supplied to the skin on the chest and stomach. Sometimes, even the upper face.
- Pain is localized.
- It can occur anywhere in your body.
- Severity can be mild to very severe.
- Pain can be gnawing, burning, dull or constant.
- Sometimes, you may experience sharp stabbing pains that don’t last long.
- There is tenderness in the affected area.
- Typically, you would experience pain first. Then, you would experience a rash a few days after.
- Red itchy fluid-filled patches quickly develop.
- It may resemble chickenpox but is not spread all over the body.
- Scabs fade away after the blisters dry up. Also, slight scarring may be left behind on the skin.
- Typically, the duration of a single episode of shingles lasts between 2-4 weeks.
- In rare cases, you may experience pain but no rash develops or you develop a rash but feel no pain.
- Occasionally, you may feel unwell and run a temperature for a few days.
Are shingles contagious?
A person suffering from shingles cannot pass on shingles to others. But indeed, people who have not had chickenpox before can contract chickenpox from a person who has shingles. Thus, people who have had chickenpox before are immune to the virus. The shingles virus is considered contagious until the blisters have scabbed and become dry. Dressing over the blisters will minimize the chance of spreading it to others. You can continue going to work or attend school so long as you feel well. Also, be sure to cover blisters with a dressing or layers of clothes.
Extra care to keep away from people with shingles must be taken by:
- Those who are pregnant and have not have chickenpox before.
- Those who have a weak or compromised immune system.
Can other people catch it?
You only get shingles from a reactivation of your own chickenpox infection in the past.
A person suffering from shingles cannot pass on shingles to others. But those persons who’ve not had chickenpox before are likely to contract chickenpox from the person who has shingles. Thus, people who have had chickenpox before are immune to the virus.
So, you cannot ‘catch’ shingles.
How common is it?
The varicella-zoster virus causes both shingles and chickenpox. Shingles, also called herpes zoster, develops in people who have had chickenpox in the past. Herpes zoster is not the same as genital herpes, which results from herpes simplex virus.
While it can happen to people belonging to any age group, it is more likely to occur in people who are older than 50 years. About 25% of all people have shingles during their lifetime. It is also very rare to get shingles more than once in your lifetime but such cases have been reported too. But, for those who have not had chickenpox before can contract chickenpox from a person who has shingles.
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Causes of shingles
The virus that causes chickenpox in people does not completely go away and remains dormant in the nerve roots near your spinal cord. It is unclear why after many years since chickenpox, the virus may multiply again and travel along the nerve to the skin surface and manifest as shingles. Often shingles do not have a proper trigger source and seem to occur randomly. An illness or stressful times may sometimes trigger the onset. Among older people, a weak immune system may sometimes be responsible for it by allowing the inactive virus to get active and multiply. Thus, resulting in shingles. People who have AIDS or those who undergo treatments involving chemotherapy or steroids have particularly weak immune systems.
The treatment plan aims at:
- Providing pain relief and easing discomfort.
- Preventing complications of the condition from developing.
General measures include things such as:
- Wearing loose-fitting clothes made of cotton.
- Cooling the affected area by using icepacks, bath or wet dressings.
- A dry dressing to cover the blisters will help minimize pain caused by friction with clothes.
- Emollients or moisturizing creams can help relieve itch. (like calamine lotion).
Painkillers for shingles
Tylenol or Advil may provide relief from pain and inflammation.
Antiviral medicines for shingles
Prescription for shingles include acyclovir, famciclovir, and valaciclovir. All are antiviral medicines that will not kill the virus completely. But, they work by stopping the virus from multiplying. They are most effective if you take them within 72 hours of the appearance of the rash.
Doctors prescribe antiviral medicines for treating shingles for those:
- Among the elderly or those who are 50 or older as they may develop complications from shingles.
- Shingles spreads to the eye or ear in people with poor immunities. Also, if shingles affect neck, arm, leg or genitals, pain may be excruciating. In addition, you may develop a severe rash as well. Typically, an antiviral course of treatment lasts 7 days.
Steroid medication for shingles
Prescription for shingles sometimes also includes steroids. Sometimes, steroid tablets such as prednisolone can be prescribed for a short duration in addition to antiviral medicines. They help in reducing swelling and pain relief. They also help the rash heal faster.
Are there any tests for shingles?
No, shingles diagnosis does not require testing. The shingles rash has a unique pattern and presents with a typical set of symptoms.
Should I see a doctor?
Yes. Seek medical attention as soon as you spot the rash. Your doctor will tell you if you need a prescription for shingles or not.
Because the pain can be very severe, doctors may be able to prescribe stronger medicines than those available over the counter.
What complications are there from shingles?
Complications are very rare, but they include:
- Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) – This is a condition where the nerve pain continues to trouble the person even after the rash is completely gone.
- Skin infection – The skin around the rash comes tender and inflamed because of a bacterial infection. In such cases, you may need a course of antibiotics.
- Eye problems – In extremely rare cases, shingles of the eye can occur. If left untreated, the inflammation could even cause loss of vision. Seek medical help if you find it troubling your vision or makes your eye itchy.
- Weakness – Occasionally, the affected nerve controls a motor function and not sensory. This could lead to weakness in the muscles affected by the nerve.
- Various other rare complications – These are extremely rare. The infection may spread to the brain or spread throughout the body as opposed to confining the rash to the area where the nerve supplies the skin. People with severely compromised immune systems are likely to develop complications.