Shingles is skin rash that is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. The following article will cover all the information on medical condition of shingles.
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a skin rash that is caused by a virus called Varicella-zoster virus (VZV). This is the same virus that causes chickenpox and belongs to the family of herpes viruses. Shingles causes are very strange and unique. Once a person is infected with chickenpox, the virus is not eliminated completely from the body after overcoming the infection. Instead, the virus quietly makes home in the nervous system and stays there forever.
In people with conditions like emotional stress, weakened immune system, AIDS, cancer, or chemotherapy, the virus reverts back to its virulent self. Many times the shingles causes is unknown as the virus may reactivate itself without any apparent reason.
So, if you have ever been infected with chickenpox and developed the nasty blisters around the body, you are at risk of developing herpes zoster. This disease can even affect people who are over 60 years of age, and rarely occurs in children under the age of 10 years. The risk of a younger child developing this condition increases when he contracts the chickenpox virus when he is 1 year old or the mother develops chickenpox when pregnant.
If the varicella zoster virus gets activated, the first symptoms that you may experience are skin rash, upset stomach, fever, chills, and headache. The rash will develop only in those areas of the body that are connected to the nerve cells where the varicella virus was lying dormant after the chickenpox infection. Therefore, you will develop a rash on one side or section of the body like the chest, back, buttocks, neck, face, and scalp.
The area where the rash appears is called the ‘dermatome’. The dermatome appears to have a rash that looks like a band or belt-like pattern on the skin. Therefore, it is many times referred to as ‘devil’s whip’. The rash develops small blisters that cause the following effects:
- The fluid-filled blisters form small ulcers that dry out and crust within a few days.
- The rash usually involves the torso area like the stomach or chest.
- Sometimes, the rash develops on the face, mouth, and ears.
- The blister may pop and ooze the fluid inside.
- The duration of the rash may be for three to four weeks.
- Sometimes, one may feel only the pain, without the development of blisters.
Many times, some individuals may develop certain complications that may be minor or very severe reactions. One may develop a minor skin infection that will clear off with medical treatment. But, a severe condition includes postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). In PHN, after the blisters clear, the pain due to shingles continues to be felt by some individuals. This is because the damaged nerve fibers send confused signals of pain from the skin to the brain. The doctor may prescribe pain and anticonvulsant medications to help your get relief from pain.
In extreme conditions, when herpes zoster affects the area in and around the eye, it may lead to ophthalmic shingles. This is a very painful condition that causes eye infections that may lead to loss of vision. Many times, depending on the nerve affected, shingles may cause encephalitis, hearing problems, Ramsay Hunt syndrome, and facial paralysis in some individuals.
The condition usually heals on its own within a few weeks; however, prompt medical care is required to help speedy recovery and decrease the risk of complications. The doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs like Acyclovir, Valacyclovir, Famciclovir, etc. These medications are to be taken within the first 72 hours of the appearance of the symptoms.
Pain management includes narcotic drugs like oxycodone, tricyclic antidepressants, and numbing agents administered in the form of cream, gel, spray, or skin patch. Many times, calamine lotion also helps reduce the burning sensation.
You may experience different levels of pain, and therefore, you may feel tired and weak. You need to take ample rest and avoid any physical stress. You should take a cool bath or apply wet compress to help reduce the heat and burning sensation of the blisters. You can take over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen, antihistamines, and apply anti-itch creams and calamine lotions.
You can prevent shingles in young children by administering them with chickenpox vaccine (Varivax) if they have never developed chickenpox. An adult who has never been infected by chickenpox may also take this vaccine. Although the vaccine will not guarantee 100% protection against chickenpox, it will however reduce the chances of developing chickenpox and its severity.
People who have had been affected by chickenpox in the past can prevent shingles by taking Zostavax vaccine. This vaccine helps prevent the occurrence of this disease in adults up to the age of 60 and above. Just as Varivax does not provide 100% protection, Zostavax too decreases the chances of developing shingles and reduces the severity of the rash.
Is Shingles Contagious?
The answer is a definite yes, and you need to keep the infected child or adult away from people who have never developed chickenpox before. This is because they might develop chickenpox instead of shingles. Remember, a person who has developed chickenpox in life will never contract the shingles infection from someone else. But, he/she is at risk of developing shingles symptoms later on in life.
An infected person is most contagious when there are new blisters forming and old blisters healing. Also, when the blisters are crusting or healing, it is a very contagious stage as the crusts contain the virus. Once the crusting period is over, the virus loses it virulence and is no longer contagious.
Herpes zoster is a very painful disease. You can never predict when you may develop its symptoms. Therefore, it is always better to maintain a healthy immune system. Make sure you visit the doctor and follow his instructions. Keep out of moving in public, and stay away from children in your home who have never been infected by chickenpox. Even if they are vaccinated, prevention is always better than cure.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.