Shingles is essentially the re-expression of the chicken pox virus (varicella virus). When a person acquires chicken pox, the varicella virus remains in the body indefinitely. It hides in the nerve roots of the spine, and can remain completely silent for many years. Then, at times of physical or psychosocial stress, the immune system can become weakened, and the virus is able to become active once again.
Once the varicella is active, it travels along the length of the long nerves of the trunk, causing inflammation of the skin and the nerve itself. This results in pain, with visible blisters and redness in a narrow strip, usually along one side of the trunk.
While shingles is not life threatening, it can be extremely painful and medical attention is recommended, especially for adults over the age of 70 and those who are near small children and others who have never had chickenpox.
Symptoms of Shingles
Shingles often begin as pain on one side of the torso. A horizontal rash, or section of blisters on the torso which burst and crust over, are indicators of shingles.
Occasionally, shingles appear near the eyes. If this happens, especially when coupled with visual disturbances, you should be examined and treated immediately, as it can cause permanent eye damage. This is considered an emergency, and you should seek help immediately.
Shingles can last from two to six weeks. While the rashes do not always develop, there are symptoms that are recognizable and may accompany shingles.
- Sensitivity to touch
- Pain or itching
- Fluid filled blisters
- Red rash
- Light sensitivity
It is best to consult a medically-trained professional when blisters start to form or when the is pain on one side of the torso.
Is Shingles Contagious?
People with shingles can pass the virus to others through the open sores of the shingles rash, usually by direct contact. Those with a shingles rash should avoid direct contact with others who fall into these groups:
- Pregnant women
- Those who haven’t had chickenpox
- Those with a weak immune system
Shingles should be properly and promptly treated.
Without proper treatment, shingles can lead to pain even after the blisters have cleared due to damaged nerve fibers, related vision loss, inflammation of the brain, hearing and balance problems, and bacterial skin infections. The sooner it is treated, there is less likelihood of these complications.
There is no cure for shingles but treating the infection promptly will help with the symptoms and reduce the chance of complications.
A medically trained professional may recommend antiviral drugs to reduce the risk of complications associated with shingles and help the infection heal faster.
Since shingles can be painful, separate medication and ointments may be prescribed to manage the pain, including:
- Tricyclic antidepressants
- Numbing gels and creams
- Medications with narcotics
- Corticosteroids and local anesthetics injections
Shingles is a serious viral infection which should be examined by a medically trained professional and treated.
To schedule an appointment to have your shingles examined and treated, call the Skin & Cancer Center of Scottsdale at (480) 596-1110.