Shingles are skin rashes caused by a viral infection. But are shingles itchy? If yes, what are the treatment options? Keep reading to find out the answers to these questions.
Almost every one of us must have contracted chickenpox at some point of time in our life. But, not everyone is lucky enough to elude the dormant virus from springing back again to life in the form of shingles, which is a viral infection caused by the varicella zoster virus (also responsible for chickenpox). This infection is also known as herpes zoster or simply zoster. In people who have suffered from chickenpox, this virus becomes inactive and resides in the nerve tissues near the spinal cord and brain. If the immune system stands compromised, this quiescent virus attacks in the form of shingles. Its symptoms start with a red rash (which can be quite itchy) that later develops into fluid-filled blisters near the breastbone, spine, and waist.
Treatment options for Itchy Shingles
► The virus varicella zoster can easily spread through a spurt of the blister by a mere physical contact. Secondly, a person having herpes zoster might experience severe itching, tingling pain in the chest, and a crust of red rash all over the body.
► Aged people experience fever, chills, headache, and fatigue as well. However, this skin problem is more common in people who have had chickenpox, have a weakened immune system, and in people who are aged above 50 (as the risk factor of contracting this disease increases with age).
► Complications arise, if zoster affects the eyes and nose. In a few severe cases, this infection can scar the cornea causing a condition known as zoster keratitis (shingles in the eye), which eventually results in vision loss.
► In rare cases, herpes zoster can also be asymptomatic, i.e., without any shingles rash and such a condition is termed as zoster sine herpete. It is followed by a searing pain in the chest and back. Rashes that develop in this infection start off as a series of red spots, which gradually squirt out as blisters.
► These blisters are filled with a clear fluid, which over a period of time turn brownish in color. With time, these blisters burst and dry out. It is during this time, severe itching and pain can be felt.
Drugs and Medications
To palliate the pain and itching, there are a few medication tips listed here. Scroll through!
► Antiviral drugs like acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir are prescribed for the treatment of herpes zoster, to palliate the inflammation and itching caused by the blisters. These drugs stall the multiplication of this dormant-turned-active virus thereby protecting the affected nerves. These medications are supposed to be taken within 72 hours of the first attack.
► Prescription drugs like oxycodone, tricyclic antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and lidocaine (a pain-numbing cream) are given to the patient to relieve the pain and itching caused by shingles in an acute state.
► In cases where there is an acute zoster attack, the patient even after being cured, might suffer from post shingles pain, also known as postherpetic neuralgia. Here the pain and itching is caused by a chain of amino acids (often referred to as substance P), which is released by a damaged nerve fiber. To treat such conditions, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin or indomethacin and local anesthetic agents (like lidocaine) are used with prilocaine. Anti-seizure drugs (like carbamazepine) along with antidepressants (like amitriptyline) are also prescribed. The purpose of these pain relief medications is to suppress the secretion of this substance P, to reduce the itching and pain caused by the affected nerves.
► Anti itching creams also provide great relief from this trouble. Calamine lotion is the most easily available one and can be applied several times a day. Then, there is burow’s solution (contains about 5% aluminum acetate solution), which has proved to be quite effective in suppressing the urge to itch. It is usually applied as a wet dressing for an hour (4 – 6 times a day). Capsaicin and lidocaine creams are also available over the counter, which can reduce the itching considerably. Capsaicin cream incites a tingling sensation by stimulating the affected nerve to release the excess of substance P. Hence, be cautious when using it, as excess usage can deplete the substance P reserves in the affected nerve.
► People affected with zoster keratitis can use vidarabine. It can be applied on the lower conjunctiva 5 times a day to get improved results.
Some Home Remedies
Besides the above-mentioned treatment options, there are some effective home remedies too which can help curb the desire to itch.
► Mix aspirin with 2 tablespoons of chloroform or alcohol and apply it on the affected area and the itching will stop gradually. One can also dab the crusts with cotton swabs soaked in hydrogen peroxide, or one can use dust colloidal powder too to assuage the pain.
► A mixture of aloe vera gel, honey, and leek juice is one of the best home remedies that can provide amazing relief to the affected area. Even a cold compress of baking soda and water will just serve the right purpose!
► To curb the eruption of more blisters, one can apply a potion of yogurt and zinc oxide along the affected nerve. An instant relief can be felt. And, if there is some apple cider vinegar at home, nothing like it. All you need is a solution of this vinegar with vitamin E oil and cool goldenseal or mugwort and the itching sensation will be subdued.
So, follow these tips and get rid of herpes zoster, which can lead to serious complications if not taken care of on time. One of the important precautions is to keep oneself cool and dry and avoid humid places, as such places are breeding grounds for virus and bacteria. Also avoid foods like chocolates, nuts, seeds, and cereal grains. Consuming pears or drinking pear juice helps in boosting up the immune system, as it is packed with antiviral caffeic acid. Also, infected people with must stay away from children and pregnant women. Last but not the least, do not forget to take a vaccine, which will prevent any recurrence (should it happen in the near future). Shingles is not a life-threatening disease but can culminate into one if not treated on time.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.