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Dermatology Blog

Shingles (Herpes Zoster)

Shingles or Herpes Zoster may not be a very commonly encountered dermatological issue, but the shooting pain this viral cutaneous disease causes is sure to make you learn a thing or two about it. Think of chickenpox, for example. Even though both conditions aren’t similar, people who have shingles often have chickenpox first. A rather interesting similarity between the two is how they both develop due to the same virus, namely varicella-zoster virus or VZV.

While chickenpox is known to cause itchy blisters, shingles usually consist of rashes that cause severe pain. Another notable difference between both conditions is that chickenpox often spreads to almost every part of your body, but shingles are limited to just a single side of your body.

Herpes Zoster 300x200 - Shingles (Herpes Zoster)What Are the Early Signs and Symptoms?

Some early signs and symptoms of shingles you should look out for include the following:

  • Headache
  • Fever with chills
  • Upset stomach
  • Severe pain on one side of your body
  • Itching
  • A burning sensation under your skin
  • Larger than usual lymph nodes
  • Lifted patches with redness on the skin

 

Since there is no first aid you can administer for this condition at home, we recommend getting in touch with a professional if you notice these signs. Even though there isn’t a cure yet, treatment can keep the symptoms from getting worse.

What Causes Shingles?

There’s an interesting chain of events that follows before shingles even occurs. The infamous varicella-zoster virus initially enters your body to cause chickenpox, either during a person’s childhood or adulthood.

Once chickenpox has run its course completely, the virus travels to nerve tissues close to your brain and spinal cord and stays there for a prolonged period. Often after years, the virus apparently becomes active again and gives your skin a second punch, called shingles or herpes zoster.

Is It Contagious?

Yes, just like chickenpox, this condition too is contagious unless someone is vaccinated for it. Moreover, people with a weak immune system, newborn babies, and pregnant women are at a greater risk of catching it. Therefore, it’s recommended to limit your movement outside a confined area until crusts have formed over all the sores.

Additionally, people with a weak immune system are also susceptible to several complications that accompany the condition, such as:

  • Loss of vision or other eye problems in case the rash was near the eye.
  • Paralysis of the face or brain inflammation if certain nerves are affected in the course.
  • Long-lasting pain even after the outbreak.

How Does a Professional Diagnose Shingles?

Typically, diagnosing shingles isn’t overly complicated. A professional usually examines your medical history, asks routine questions about the symptoms, other underlying conditions, and medications, etc. Following this, they may conduct a physical examination and test a very small amount of material if there are any blisters.

Medications Used For Treatment

The healing process can be improved and sped up by the following medications, as per your doctor’s prescription.

Painkillers

Due to the severe pain and inflammation that sometimes can accompany the condition, your doctor may suggest some painkillers like:

  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen
  • Acetaminophen

Antiviral Medications

Antiviral medications, as per your doctor’s prescription, can slow down the development of rashes. Some medications include:

  • Valacyclovir
  • Famciclovir
  • Acyclovir

What Are Some Myths About Shingles?

Myth #1: Shingles and chickenpox are the same things

While they may have the same virus behind them, chickenpox and shingles are not the same. Shingles could easily last for a month, while chickenpox usually heals in about a week or two. Chickenpox blisters are itchy, whereas shingles blisters are painful. Chickenpox could spread to your body while shingles are limited to one area.

Myth#2: Only older and immuno-compromised people are susceptible to shingles

It’s true that the infection is commonly found in those over the age of 50, but it’s not entirely limited to them. People of any age can get it if they’ve had chickenpox.

Myth #3: Shingles only happens once

Even though the likelihood of shingles happening again is low, it isn’t zero. New bouts can still develop on your body unless you’re fully vaccinated.

Myth #4: There’s no discomfort other than rashes

While rashes are the primary symptom, shingles also comes with a number of other pain-inducing or uncomfortable symptoms. Some symptoms include fever, headache, muscle weakness, stomachaches, and even scarring.

Interesting Facts About Shingles

Fact #1: It has the ability to hurt your brain

Even though it’s not common, shingles around the forehead, ears, and eyes can also cause swelling in the brain, face paralysis, or difficulty hearing. In very few cases, the infection has also been linked to a stroke and brain tissue inflammation.

Fact #2: Vision loss is a possibility

Again, the possibility is very low but not zero. Painful, swollen, and red eyelids as a result of shingles should not be taken lightly. It could lead to a possible case of scarring or even blindness if left untreated. Look out for blisters on the nose tip as an early warning sign.

Fact #3: Vaccines are effective

Similar to many other conditions, vaccines don’t always guarantee no shingles. However, they can significantly reduce your chances of developing it. Even if you end up getting shingles, the symptoms will likely be less severe and much more manageable.

Fact #4: Shingles could be a result of stress

While shingles isn’t directly caused by stress, the latter is known to weaken a person’s immune system and suffer from the outbreak. Stress can also make the management harder and more painful. Moreover, it can cause you to have an illness that somehow ends up triggering the development of shingles.

In the end, there are many complications that can come with shingles. Even though it’s not a life-threatening infection, it can cause an immense amount of pain and discomfort along with some serious after-effects. Therefore, we recommend visiting a professional as soon as you notice the symptoms developing.

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