Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chicken pox. When you recover from chicken pox, the virus remains dormant in your body. Sometimes, it is reactivated, which then becomes shingles. Not everyone who had chicken pox will get shingles. It is more common in those over the age of 60 or those with weakened immune systems.
Shingles shows up as a painful skin rash. It usually begins on one side of the face or body but before the rash appears, you may feel tingling, pain or itching. The rash commonly occurs as a stripe around the side of the body or face. In those with weakened immune systems, the rash can be more widespread.
The rash normally follows a specific pattern: red patches followed by blisters. The blisters break and form crusts. The crusts fall off two to three weeks.
Besides the rash, other symptoms are:
- Burning pain
- Feeling ill
- Joint pain
- Swollen glands
- Upset stomach
If the virus affects nerves, you might feel some muscle weakness and pain that lasts after the rash has disappeared. This can sometimes last for several weeks or months.
Shingles is treated with antiviral medications. These medications help to shorten the duration and the intensity of the rash. If you think you have shingles, you should contact your doctor because in order for these medications to be effective, they should be started within three days after the rash appears.
Your doctor might also prescribe corticosteroids, such as prednisone, to help reduce inflammation.
Besides antiviral medications, you can use analgesics, such as Tylenol, Advil or Alleve to help relieve the pain. To reduce itchiness, you can use antihistamines, calamine lotion, wet compresses or oatmeal baths.
Spreading the Virus
Shingles cannot be spread to another person. You can, however, pass the varicella zoster virus when shingles is in the blister stage. It can only been passed to someone who has never had chicken pox, and, that person would develop chicken pox, not shingles.
If you have shingles, you can reduce the chance of spreading the virus by keeping the rash covered, avoiding touching the rash and wash your hands thoroughly before coming in contact with someone else. You should be especially careful if around premature babies, those with weakened immune systems and pregnant women who have not had chicken pox.
There is a vaccination available reduce your chance of developing shingles. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends people over 60 years old get the vaccine. Even if you have had shingles, you can get the vaccine to prevent developing it again. The vaccine has been approved for those between the ages of 50 and 59 years old but there is not a recommendation to receive it until the age of sixty. The vaccine is available at many pharmacies and through your doctor’s office.
“About Shingles,” Updated 2011, Jan. 10, Staff Writer, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
“Shingles,” Reviewed 2013, June 6, Reviewed by Jatin M. Vyas, A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia
Published On: January 21, 2014