Shingles: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment
Shingles (herpes zoster) is a virus that affects the nervous system and causes a painful rash. There is a generally one side of the body affected by the shingles rash and the symptoms may include fever, headaches, and fatigue in addition to the rash.
Chickenpox and shingles are caused by the same virus, varicella-zoster. After you have chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in your nervous system. Viruses can reactivate at a later age in life for reasons that are not fully understood, causing shingles to appear for unknown reasons. A person with chickenpox can contract shingles, but those over 50 are more likely to contract it.
In spite of the fact that shingles cannot be cured, there are treatments available to relieve its symptoms.
Symptoms of shingles
Shingles usually present with pain, tingling, itching or burning on one side of the body or face.
After a few days, a rash of small blisters appear. These blisters can be extremely painful and sensitive to touch.
The blisters will eventually fill with fluid and then break open and crust over. The rash usually lasts 2-4 weeks. Sometimes, the pain lasts for months even after the rash has healed. This is called postherpetic neuralgia.
Other symptoms of shingles can include:
- Sensitivity to light
Causes of Shingles
Shingles, or herpes zoster, is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. Chickenpox is caused by the same virus. After you have chickenpox, varicella zoster lies dormant (inactive) in your nervous system for years before it reactivates and causes shingles.
It's not clear why the virus reactivates later in life to cause shingles in some people but not others. However, researchers believe that risk of developing shingles increases if your immune system is weakened, either by stress or illness such as a cold or flu.
How to treat shingles
There is no cure for shingles but there are treatments available to help people with shingles relieve the symptoms.
Antiviral medicines such as acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir), or valacyclovir (Valtrex) can be used to treat shingles at any stage but are most effective when started within three days of the onset of symptoms. These medicines can also help prevent postherpetic neuralgia from occurring or lessen its severity if it does occur.
Shingles pain can also be relieved with pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. These medicines are more commonly known as Tylenol and Advil, respectively. While they are primarily used for shingles pain relief, they can also help reduce fever.
Itching is another common symptom of people who get shingles. Scratching an itch caused by shingles in and of itself can also lead to infection, as the skin is already weakened and possible broken from the blisters. Applying a steroid free anti-itch cream like Dermelve can provide quick relief from the urge to scratch.
The reason why it's important to use a product that's free of corticosteroids is because they can result is some serious side effects form long term use, including physical withdrawal symptoms after stopping their use.
Dermeleve® is a safe, over the counter option that is made of natural ingredients like shea butter, Hyaluronic acid, Vitamin C&E and ceramides. Not only do these natural ingredients contribute to the incredible itch-soothing properties of Dermeleve®, but they also help to provide much needed healing and protection to the skin damaged from shingles.
If you develop symptoms suggestive of shingles—particularly if a painful rash appears on one side of your body—see your doctor as soon as possible so that he or she can confirm the diagnosis and start you on antiviral medication if necessary.
Is shingles contagious?
Shingles is not contagious; however, if a person has active shingles, the virus might be contagious during the blistering stage.
The following steps should be taken if you have shingles:
- -Cover the rash with a dressing
- -Avoid touching or scratching the rash
- -Wash your hands frequently to prevent the spread of infection.
You should also avoid close contact with people until the rash has healed completely and all blisters have crusted over. Chickenpox can be especially dangerous around people with weakened immune systems.
The majority of shingles infections last 3-5 weeks. Shingles affects most people only once, but it's possible to get it more than once.
The shingles vaccine
According to the CDC, adults aged 50 and up should receive two doses of the shingles vaccine known as Shingrix (recombinant zoster vaccine) in order to prevent shingles and its complications. Adults aged 19 and up who have weakened immune systems due to underlying conditions or medical treatments should also get two doses of Shingrix, as they are more likely to develop shingles and related complications.
Shingrix is an incredibly effective vaccine against shingles and postherpetic neuralgia. This is especially true for adults 50 years and older with healthy immune systems. In fact, this vaccine is more than 90% effective at preventing these conditions. Additionally, the immunity from Shingrix vaccinations lasts for at least 7 years. Even in adults with weakened immune systems, studies show that Shingrix can still be anywhere from 68%-91%, depending on the condition affecting their immune system.
Early treatment with antiviral medication can speed healing and reduce your risk of developing postherpetic neuralgia. Supplement your care with Dermeleve® to soothe and heal the skin while also providing powerful anti-itch relief.
Be sure to see your doctor if your symptoms worsen or don't improve with home treatment.