Shingles is an infection caused by varicella-zoster virus and it causes a painful rash. This infection can occur anywhere on your body. Most, but not all, people with shingles develop a blistering rash on their body which lasts two to four weeks before a full recovery. You may also observe symptoms like itching, deep pain or burning sensation. The causal viral organism, varicella-zoster virus is the same virus that causes chicken pox and it basically affects the individual nerve and the skin surface that is supplied by the nerve. If you have once recovered from chickenpox, it’s more likely you develop shingles. It is quite not possible to have shingles if you have never been exposed to chickenpox or the causal organism, varicella virus. On exposure, the virus can lay dormant for a number of years and get reactivated later in life. Shingles is actually most common in individuals over the age of 50 years.

Quick facts on Shingles

  • About 1 in 3 people will develop shingles during their lifetime
  • Shingles is a painful viral infection of the nerve supplying an area of skin evidenced by a localized skin rash.
  • Exposure to varicella-zoster virus increases your likelihood of having shingles.
  • Shingles episode normally last 2-4 weeks.
  • Shingles is not spread through coughing or sneezing, but via direct contact with fluid from the blisters.

What are the symptoms of Shingles?

  • Early symptoms of shingles include fever and general weakness of the body.
  • A constant dull, burning, or gnawing pain. Also a stabbing pain that comes and go
  • Appearance of rash between 1-5 days after pain began. The rash looks like chicken pox and may involve the eyes, mouth, face and ears in some cases
  • Itchy fluid-filled blisters
  • Scaring where the blisters have been on the body
  • Other symptoms include malaise, nausea, chills, muscle pain, upset stomach, difficulties with urination, fatigue, joint pain, swollen glands.
  • If the rash appears on the face, you can experience drooping eyelids, difficulty moving some facial muscles, loss of eye motion, problems with taste and vision problems.

Can Shingles be transmitted?

Shingles cannot be transmitted from a  person to another . However, the varicella-zoster virus can be spread from a person with shingles at the active stage to another person who never had chickenpox and in a case like this, the infected person gets chicken pox, and not shingles.

What causes Shingles?

Majorly caused by varicella-zoster virus, same virus that causes chickenpox. It is true that not everyone that has had chickenpox will develop shingles. The rationale for this is not clear but it may be due to lowered immunity to infections as one grows older. Certain risk factors for developing shingles include being older than 50, having certain diseases that weaken the immune system such as HIV/AIDS and cancer, undergoing cancer treatment, and taking certain medications like steroids for a long time.

How can Shingles be diagnosed?

  • The history you give to your physicians on your symptoms
  • Tissue scraping or culture of the blisters for laboratory examinations.

How can shingles be treated medically?

This is directed at reducing the effects of the virus, as well as pain management. Majority of shingles can be managed at home but people with impaired immune system with severe symptoms needs hospital admission.

  • Use of pain medication to relieve the discomfort caused by the rash. Over the counter medications such as acetaminophen, non-inflammatory analgesics like ibuprofen. If you experience more severe pain, you probably need an opioid pain medication.
  • Use of over the counter antihistamine medication can alleviate the localized itching
  • Use of antiviral medications to fight viral infection against the varicella zoster virus.
  • Your doctor might recommend corticosteroid medications, such as prednisone in specific complicated cases.
  • For recurrent shingles, receive the zoster vaccine (Shingrix) to prevent recurrent episodes of shingles. The centers for disease control and prevention (CDC) recommends the zostavax vaccine in people aged 60 years and above. Some people should not take the shingles vaccine, they include anyone with a severe allergic reaction to gelatin, anyone with a weakened immune system and pregnant women.

Home Remedies for shingles?

  • You can apply topically calamine lotion to the rash to reduce itchy sensation.
  • Cool wet compresses against the rash can be soothing
  • Maintain personal hygiene
  • Ensure you do not scratch the rash
  • Wear loose-fitting clothes and keep the affected area clean
  • Cover the rash to decrease the risk of transmission

What are the complications of Shingles?

These include Post herpetic neuralgia, bacteria skin infections, Ramsay hunt syndrome, encephalitis, disseminated herpes zoster, eye involvement.

Prognosis

This infection typically resolves between 2 to 4 weeks and healthy individuals achieve full recovery.