The severity of shingles depends on various factors, such as age of the patient, general health condition of the patient, and the part of the body where shingles develops. For some people, the symptoms are mild with mild pain and itching. Whereas other patients may present with intense pain, itching, and complications.
What is shingles?
Shingles is also called herpes zoster. It is caused by varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. Sometimes, in patients who have a history of chickenpox, the virus can be present in the nervous system for years in a dormant stage. It reactivates as shingles.
What causes shingles?
The reactivation of the chickenpox virus as shingles occurs more commonly in the following cases:
- Periods of extreme physical or emotional stress
- Weakened immune system due to HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)
- Cancer patients
- Patients who have had a transplant
- Age above 50 years
- Patients with diabetes
- Patients taking medications such as steroids or immunosuppressant medications
- Poor nutrition and health
- Major physical injury
What are the signs and symptoms of shingles?
The signs and symptoms of shingles typically occur over one side of the face or body.
The generalized signs and symptoms in the body may include:
- Pain is usually the first symptom in shingles and can vary in intensity.
- Burning sensation, numbness or tingling and itching.
- Raised red rash which usually appears a few days after the pain.
- Multiple blisters which appear in a stripe pattern.
- The blisters contain fluid and they break open with crusting.
- Fever, chills, fatigue, and body ache.
- Photophobia (sensitivity to light) in case the rash involves the forehead.
The typical shingles rash is seen as blisters following pain, itching, and tingling. It is usually limited to one side of the face and body.
- Shingles on the face, scalp, mouth, and ear:
Rash and blisters of shingles appear on one side of the face extending to the scalp and ear.
Shingles can occur in the mouth and is usually very painful, causing pain while eating and change in taste.
- Shingles of the eye and forehead:
Rash and blisters appear around the eye, over the eyelids and one side of the forehead, extending to the tip of the nose. This rash may involve the eye.
- Shingles on the waist and back:
- Shingles on the buttocks:
Shingles rash and blisters appear over the buttocks, usually on one side.
What are complications of shingles?
Shingles can have complications that last long after the rash has disappeared. Complications can also occur if the infection has not been treated appropriately:
- Inflammation of the brain (encephalitis)
- Facial nerve paralysis
- Inflammation of the eye
- Loss of vision (due to cornea infection)
- Postherpetic neuralgia (pain that lasts long after the infection resolves)
- Loss of hearing and balance problems
- Loss of taste
- Superinfection with bacteria causing increased swelling, redness, warmth, pain, tenderness and pus formation
How is shingles treated?
Shingles rash and blisters can cause severe pain and may not reduce with over-the-counter pain medication. Treatment of pain includes:
Can shingles be prevented?
Shingles can be prevented. Vaccine is available against varicella zoster virus to prevent chickenpox and shingles. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), children are routinely recommended to take two doses of the vaccine, the first dose at the age of 12 to 15 months and the second between four and six years. Two doses of the vaccine are recommended in children and adults who have never had chickenpox. One dose of the vaccine prevents 95% of moderate disease and 100% of severe disease. Two doses of the vaccine are more effective. It is not known how long the vaccine is effective, but studies have shown that the vaccine provides protection against the varicella zoster virus for 10 to 20 years following vaccination.
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