Shingles or herpes zoster is a viral infection that is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. Shingles is characterized by painful rash, small blisters, burning and tingling on the affected skin. While it can affect any part of the body, it usually affects one side.
Typically, it takes about 2-5 weeks for someone to recover from shingles, although some cases may take longer.
What causes shingles?
Shingles is caused by reactivation of the varicella zoster virus that causes chickenpox. After the initial infection, the virus remains dormant or inactive in the nerves for many years. About 1 in 3 adults who had chickenpox develop shingles later in life due to reactivation of the virus.
Risk factors for getting shingles includes:
Is shingles contagious?
Although shingles itself is not contagious, the virus that causes shingles and chickenpox is contagious. People who have never had chickenpox before and come into direct contact with the blisters of an infected person may develop chickenpox.
It is therefore important to avoid close contact with anyone until the rash clears.
What are the signs and symptoms of shingles?
Symptoms vary according to each individual. However, common symptoms may include:
- Burning or shooting pain or increased skin sensitivity 1-14 days before the rash appears
- Tingling or numbness on the affected skin
- Painful rash that typically appears 1-5 days after the tingling sensation and appears on one side of the face or body
- Small red spots that turn into painful fluid-filled blisters on either side of the body
- Scab formation in 7-10 days after the rash heals
Additional symptoms may include:
How is shingles treated?
There is no cure available for shingles. The condition will run its natural course and clear up within 2-5 weeks.
For some people, pain can last for months or even years after the rash is cleared. This long-lasting pain is called postherpetic neuralgia, and it is the most common complication of shingles that can also cause depression, sleeplessness, anxiety, and weight loss.
Treatment aims to relieve pain, lessen the severity of symptoms, and prevent nerve damage and may include:
- Antiviral medications such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir
- Steroids such as prednisone to reduce inflammation
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen to relieve pain
- Calamine lotion and oatmeal baths to help relieve itching
- Cool compress (applied on the affected skin)
- Keeping the rash dry and clean
- Wearing loose clothing
- Washing your hands often
Can shingles be prevented?
To avoid complications, contact your health care provider immediately or at least within 3 days of the appearance of a rash if you have symptoms of shingles and have previously had chickenpox.
Shingrix is a DNA vaccine approved by the FDA that may help prevent shingles. It is given in 2 doses 6 months apart.
The CDC recommends all adults ages 50 and older to get vaccinated to prevent shingles infection and its complications. Discuss the vaccine with your doctor.
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Shingles. Johns Hopkins Medicine: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/shingles
Shingles (Herpes Zoster). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/index.html
Shingles. MedlinePlus: https://medlineplus.gov/shingles.html Shingles. National Institute on Aging: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/shingles
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