Shingles: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment


What Is Shingles?

Shingles is a viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is also responsible for chickenpox. Even after you’ve recovered from chickenpox, the virus will remain dormant in your nervous system for years before reactivating as shingles. Herpes zoster is another name for shingles. A red skin rash, which can cause discomfort and burning, is a symptom of this viral infection. Shingles are characterized by a stripe of blisters on one side of the body, generally on the torso, neck, or face.

Is Shingles Contagious?

Anyone who isn’t resistant to chickenpox can contract the varicella-zoster virus from someone who has shingles. This is frequently caused by direct touch with the shingles rash’s exposed sores. One may develop chickenpox rather than shingles once infected. Some people are at risk of chickenpox. You should avoid physical contact with anyone who hasn’t had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccination until your shingles blisters scab over, especially persons with low immune systems, pregnant women, and newborns.

Symptoms of Shingles

Pressure and burning are commonly the first signs of shingles. The pain normally arises in small spots on one side of the body. A red rash is usually the next symptom. Here are some symptoms of a rash:

  • Red patches
  • Blisters that are fluid-filled and quickly split
  • Coils around the body from the spine
  • Itchiness

With shingles, some people encounter symptoms other than pain and rash. These may include the following:

  • Shivers
  • Febrile illness
  • Migraine
  • Exhaustion
  • Weakness of the muscles

These are rare, yet dangerous shingles complications:

  • Any pain or rash involving the eye should be addressed right away to avoid lasting eye damage.
  • Ramsay Hunt syndrome can cause hearing loss or extreme pain in one ear, dizziness, or a loss of taste on the tongue, all of which require prompt treatment.
  • Bacterial infection, which causes the skin to turn red, puffy, and heated.

You can deal with the symptoms of shingles through any of these means:

  • Medications for pain alleviation
  • Minimizing stress to the greatest extent possible
  • Eating healthful meals regularly
  • Doing some light exercise
  • For comfort, wear loose-fitting clothes

Parts of the Body that Shingles Affects

The Eyes

closeup image of the eyeShingles in and around the eyes, also known as ophthalmic herpes zoster or herpes zoster ophthalmicus, affects roughly 10% to 20% of shingles patients. Your eyelids, forehead, and sometimes the tip or side of your nose may develop a blistering rash. Burning or throbbing in the eye, redness and tears, swelling, and blurred vision are all possible symptoms. If left untreated, shingles of the eye can cause major complications such as long-term vision loss and irreversible scarring due to corneal edema.

The Face

Shingles can affect one side of your back or chest, although a rash on one side of your face is also possible. If the rash gets close to or is in your ear, it can create an infection which can lead to hearing loss, balance problems, and facial muscle weakness. Shingles in the mouth can be excruciatingly painful. It could cause difficulty eating, and your taste buds might be impacted. When you comb or brush your hair, a shingles outbreak on your scalp can cause irritation. If left untreated, shingles on the scalp can result in permanent hair loss.

The Buttocks

A shingles rash might appear on your buttocks. Shingles may affect only one side of the body, so you can get a rash on your right buttock but not on your left. Initial signs of shingles on your buttocks may include tingling, itching, or discomfort like they do in other parts of the body. A red rash or blisters may appear after a few days. Some folks get a rash but don’t get any pain.

The Back

A stripe of blisters may grow down one side of your back or lower back, similar to how shingles rashes normally form across one side of your waistline.

Causes of Shingles

Shingles are caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles. The virus penetrates your nerve system after you recover from chickenpox and remains dormant for years. It may eventually reactivate and move through nerve pathways to your skin, resulting in shingles. Not, however, that not everyone who gets chickenpox develops shingles.

Risk Factors of Shingles

Shingles can affect everyone who has ever had chickenpox. The following factors may enhance your chances of getting shingles:

Being Above the Age of 50

Shingles is most prevalent in persons over the age of 50. With age, the danger increases.

Having an Illness

Shingles can be worsened by diseases that weaken your immune systems, such as HIV/AIDS and cancer.

Taking some Prescription Drugs

Long-term usage of steroids like prednisone, as well as drugs designed to prevent donated organ rejection, can raise your risk of shingles.

Undergoing Cancer Treatment

Radiation or chemotherapy might weaken your immune system and cause shingles.

Complications from Shingles

Vision Loss

Ophthalmic shingles (shingles in or around the eye) can cause painful eye infections and vision loss.

Postherpetic Neuralgia

Shingles pain can last for weeks or months after the blisters have healed. Postherpetic neuralgia is a disorder that happens when injured nerve fibers send jumbled and excessive pain signals from your skin to your brain.

Infections of the Skin

massageBacterial skin infections might develop if shingles blisters aren’t treated properly.
Shingles can induce brain inflammation (encephalitis), facial paralysis, or hearing or balance issues, depending on which nerves are involved.

How to Treat Shingles

Although there is no cure for shingles, timely treatment with antiviral medications can hasten to heal and reduce the risk of complications. Here are some of the medications used in treating shingles:

  • Acyclovir, an antiviral medication (Zovirax)
  • Famciclovir, an antiviral medication
  • Valacyclovir, an antiviral medication (Valtrex)

Because shingles can cause excruciating discomfort, your doctor may also prescribe:

  • Amitriptyline and other tricyclic antidepressants
  • Numbing chemicals, such as lidocaine, to be applied as a cream, gel, spray, or patch to the skin
  • Medications containing narcotics like codeine
  • Corticosteroids and local anesthetics are used in the injection

Shingles can persist anywhere from two to six weeks. The majority of people only get shingles once, however, it is possible to get it twice or more.

How to Prevent Shingles

  • Both chickenpox and shingles can be prevented by being vaccinated
  • For children (Varicella Vaccine)
  • During childhood, experts urge routine immunization with the varicella vaccine (chickenpox vaccine). There is a 90 percent likelihood of preventing chickenpox with two doses of the vaccination.

The vaccination is safe in tests, while some children may experience:

  • Injection site discomfort
  • A slight rash and a fever
  • Joint stiffness and discomfort
  • For Adults (Shingles vaccine)
  • For persons over 50 who have had chickenpox and thus carry VZV, a separate vaccine, the herpes zoster vaccine, is available. This vaccine is also recommended for people who have never experienced chickenpox or shingles

Those who should avoid getting the shingles vaccine without first consulting their doctor include those who:

  • have an allergy to any of the shingles vaccine’s components
  • afflicted with a weak immune system
  • are pregnant or may be pregnant

Now that you Know…

Shingles can affect anyone who has had chickenpox. The majority of patients recover completely from shingles in 3–5 weeks, although some have serious consequences. People with a weak immune system are the most vulnerable. Both chickenpox and shingles can be prevented by getting the varicella vaccine as a youngster. Other inoculations are available for persons who did not receive the vaccine as a youngster. Vaccination should be discussed with your doctor if you are 50 or older.