Shingles - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment!

By: Editor in Illness on 06-03-2018

Shingles is an infection. It is caused by a virus. That virus is called ZVZ. It also causes chickenpox. While you may only have chickenpox once, the virus remains dormant. It can appear again later in life.

Pain is the main symptom of shingles, and a major sign is the localized, bright red rash which is similar to chickenpox. This rash can develop into painful, itchy blisters.

A quarter to a third of people have an episode of shingles sometime during their life. While children occasionally develop this infection, older people are much more at risk.

Shingles is not a life-threatening illness, though it is advised to seek early treatment to minimize risk of complications. Vaccines are an option to help prevent development of shingles.

Shingles Explained

Signs & Symptoms

Because the earliest symptom of shingles is localized pain, it can be mistaken as a symptom of a problem affecting internal organs. Signs and symptoms of shingles commonly include:

  • Burning, numbness, tingling (pins and needles)

  • Oversensitivity

  • Red rash and blisters

  • Itching

The characteristic rash usually begins to develop a few days after the onset of pain but may take longer to appear. While it generally appears on the right or left side of the torso in a stripe, it can also break out on the face. The fluid-filled blisters that form can fracture and scab over.

Other symptoms include:

  • fever

  • fatigue

  • feeling unwell

  • headache

  • photosensitivity

Cause & Risk factors

As mentioned, Shingles is caused by the same virus as chickenpox. People who have had chickenpox may also develop shingles. When the virus is reactivated, it infects the nervous system, leading to the symptoms described above. It is unclear what prompts this reactivation of the virus, but some risk factors must be considered such as being over 50 years of age, having a disease that weakens the immune system (HIV/AIDS or cancer), or being treated for cancer.

Treatment

Shingles usually lasts from two to four weeks. No cure exists currently, but the symptoms can be treated until the illness resolves. Ways to treat shingles on one's own include:

  • keeping the rash clean, dry and covered (with a non-adherent dressing), reducing the risk of bacterial infection and spreading the virus to others

  • applying lotion to soothe the skin and reduce itching

  • wearing loose clothing for more comfort

  • taking painkillers

Frequently Asked Questions about Shingles

Q: Can shingles be prevented?

A: Both the chickenpox vaccine and the shingles vaccine can reduce the likelihood of contracting the virus or at least reduce the severity of symptoms when infected. The chickenpox vaccine is generally administered to children, while the shingles vaccine is a recommended immunization for people over 60.

Q: Is shingles contagious?

A: The virus can spread to people who are not resistant to ZVZ (i.e. has not had chickenpox) It is spread through direct contact. However, it’s only with open shingles blisters. For this reason, open sores should be covered. Someone infected from these sores will develop chickenpox, not shingles.

Q: What are the complications of shingles?

A: Complications of shingles can include:

  • Postherpetic neuralgia - This is when the pain from shingles continues long after the condition subsides. This occurs because of damaged nerve fibers sending false messages of pain from skin to brain.

  • Vision loss – Sometimes shingles, or shingles around the eye, can result in eye infections that lead to loss of vision. Other symptoms of this kind of shingles are conjunctivitis, a rash on the forehead, nose and eye, and red eye.

  • Skin infections – If the blisters are not cleaned and treated, bacterial infections may develop.

Q: When should I see a doctor?

A: One should contact a doctor whenever shingles is suspected, especially if the rash is around the eye, one's immune system is compromised, or one is over 60 years old.