Shingles: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

by | Jun 17, 2019 |

Shingles is a viral skin infection that results in a painful rash. Although it can occur on any part of the body, it appears most commonly in the form of blisters wrapped around the right or left side of the torso.

Causes of Shingles

It is caused by a virus namely varicella-zoster virus that also causes chickenpox. It generally occurs in people with a history of chickenpox or exposure to varicella-zoster virus. Although the varicella-zoster virus can lie dormant for many years in the body of a person, it has the ability to reactivate many times. It is most common in people over 50 years of age and in people with a weak immune system.

Symptoms of Shingles

Pain is the general symptom of shingles and it can be mild to severe. In some cases, a person may experience pain without a rash or may develop a rash without pain. The main symptoms of shingles include:

  • Pain, burning, tingling or numbness
  • Sensitivity and itching
  • Development of rash after a few days of pain
  • Rash on eyes, mouth, ears, and face
  • Inflammation around the rash
  • Fluid-filled blisters
  • Fever and headache
  • Sensitivity to light

Contagiousness

It cannot be transmitted to one person to another, but the varicella-zoster virus can be transmitted from a person with active stage of shingles to someone who never had chickenpox. In this case, the infected person will develop chickenpox but not shingles. It does not spread by sneezing, coughing or through direct contact with blister fluid.

Complications

Although shingles is not life-threatening, in some cases, it may cause complications such as:

  • Postherpetic neuralgia: It is a condition in which a person experiences pain even after the clearing of blisters as damaged nerve fibers send confused messages of pain from skin to the brain.
  • Neurological problems: The effect of shingles on nerves can result in the inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, hearing problems and facial paralysis.
  • Vision loss: The development of shingles around the eyes may result in painful eye infections leading to vision loss
  • Skin infections: If not properly treated, it may cause bacterial skin infections.

Diagnosis

  • Physical examination: The healthcare providers analyze the signs and symptoms once the rash appears on the body. They take a look at the rash to see whether it has just started or converted in the form of blisters.
  • Laboratory tests: Polymerase chain reaction technique is used for the confirmation of the varicella-zoster virus that causes shingles. The swabs from the shingles blisters are taken to detect the DNA of the varicella-zoster virus.

Treatment

  • Varicella vaccine: It is used to prevent chickenpox. It is given in the form of the two-dose vaccine, first in the age of 12 to 15 months and then in the age of 4 to 6 years.
  • Shingles vaccine: The Food and Drug Administration approved shingles vaccine “Zostavax” in 2006. Usually given as a single injection, it protects the individual from shingles for five years. Another vaccine “Shingrix” was approved in 2017 is preferred over Zostavax as it offers protection beyond five years. It is given in the form of two-doses between 2 to 6 months.

Other Preventive Measures to Ease the Symptoms of Shingles

Although the antiviral medications are effective, some preventive measures can also help in reducing the pain and ease the symptoms of shingles:

  • Keep the rash dry
  • Clean the blisters to reduce the infection
  • Apply a wet cold compress to relieve itchiness and pain
  • Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothes
  • Do not use or rub antibiotic creams on the rash
  • Use calamine lotion to soothe and relieve itching
  • Include vitamins A, B12, C, and E to strengthen the immune system that can prevent it.
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