Shingles, or herpes zoster, is a viral illness which leads to the appearance of painful eruptions and rashes. Most people who get shingles experience the rash and blisters on one side of the body. From the tingling itch on the skin to the painful blisters, shingles is a condition that affects many. While it can be uncomfortable and worrisome at times, understanding the stages of shingles may help make it easier to manage. In this article, let's take a closer look at the different stages of shingles and how they should be handled.
What are the major symptoms of shingles?
The viral infection called shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus. The virus stays in your body and can remain inactive for years until it is reactivated. People who have had chickenpox in the past are more likely to develop shingles.
Symptoms of shingles can vary, but the most typical first signs of a shingles outbreak are an aching prickling or itching sensation on one side of the body or face, or a band of pain around the whole body.
This first stage of symptoms caused by shingles usually lasts between one and five days. It's characterized by flu-like symptoms such as headache, fever, chills, fatigue, and body aches. After one to five days, an itchy skin rash caused by the virus may appear on one side of the body or face. This rash will often be in the form of a strip or patch of blisters that can be painful. The rash usually follows a path along a nerve pathway from the spine to one side of the face or body.
Once this painful rash appears, it can start to form painful blisters filled with fluid, which are characteristic of the later stages of a shingles infection.
In some cases, shingles can also cause neuralgia, which is a sharp tingling or burning feeling that can cause persistent and severe pain for several days after the rash has gone away.
Is Shingles Contagious?
The fluid-filled blisters can break open, releasing a liquid containing the varicella-zoster virus. This liquid is contagious and can spread shingles to others. Eventually, the shingles blisters crust and gradually heal, with the scabs fading over the course of several weeks.
The severity of shingles symptoms typically can vary from person to person, and is often dependent on the individual’s overall health and weakened immune system. In addition to the common symptoms of shingles, other less common symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue and sensitivity to light. People may also experience shingles pain localized in the area where the virus has affected the nerve cells. This is known as postherpetic neuralgia and tends to be more severe in elderly people.
For most people, the symptoms of shingles will usually last between two and four weeks. Treatment for shingles resolves many of the issues, though some pain can persist if the proper medication is not administered. Certain courses of treatment can include starting antiviral medication treatment to reduce the severity of the symptoms and reduce the risk of complications. In some cases, medications such as painkillers or antidepressants may be prescribed to help manage the extreme pain associated with shingles. As shingles is a virus and can weaken your immune system, it is important to take steps to prevent the spread of the infection, such as avoiding contact with people who have not had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine.
What is the process for getting shingles diagnosed and treated?
Diagnosis of shingles typically begins with a doctor examining the skin rash, often within a few days of when it first appears. The doctor may also take a swab of the rash to test for the virus or take a blood test to see if there are any antibodies present in the body. Treatment for shingles will depend on the severity of the infection and the patient's individual health situation.
Early treatment with antiviral medications is critical for reducing the severity and duration of the infection. It is also important to treat the symptoms of shingles, such as pain, itching and burning, to help speed up the healing process. In some cases, topical treatments such as creams and ointments can be used to reduce inflammation and help soothe the skin.
A non-steroidal anti-itch cream like Dermeleve is recommended, as it is a safe alternative to topical steroids such as hydrocortisone cream. Corticosteroids, which not only take longer to reduce the itch and pain, can also cause serious side effects and even withdrawal symptoms if used for an extended period of time.
Dermeleve, on the other hand, starts working immediately, lasts for hours, and can safely be used as frequently as needed.
In severe cases, oral steroids may be prescribed to reduce the pain and speed up healing. In addition, a vaccine may be recommended for people who have had shingles in the past or who are at risk of a future outbreak.
How long does shingles last for?
Most cases of shingles last from two to four weeks, although it may take much longer for the tingling pain and itching to subside. It is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible if you think you may have shingles so that treatments can be started promptly. With prompt treatment, the severity and duration of the infection can be reduced. It is also important to be aware of the risk factors associated with getting shingles, such as age and weakened immune system, so that you can take measures to protect yourself.
Who is most at risk for shingles?
After a person has had chickenpox, the varicells-zoster virus remains dormant in the body and can reactivate years later, causing shingles. This means that if you have had chickenpox, you can develop shingles; so it is important to know the risk factors and how to reduce the risk of getting shingles.
What's the best way to prevent shingles?
Age is the most important risk factor for shingles. The risk of developing shingles increases with age and the highest risk is among the elderly. Other risk factors include a weakened immune system, chronic illnesses such as cancer, HIV, and diabetes, and medications that suppress the immune system.
It is important to understand the risk factors for developing shingles and to know what to do to reduce the risk. To reduce the risk of developing shingles, it is important to get vaccinated, eat a healthy diet, get regular exercise, manage stress, and practice good hygiene. It is also important to stay informed, as there is no cure for shingles but there are treatments available to help manage the symptoms.
Who should get the shingles vaccine?
When it comes to preventing shingles, the shingles vaccine is an important way to protect yourself. The shingles vaccine, or Shingrix, is recommended for adults aged 50 and older, and can help prevent shingles and reduce the risk of complications from the virus.