Understanding Shingles

Shingles is a painful skin condition that can be caused by viral infection. It appears as a rash, most often a band of blisters that can cover one side of the body although it may appear anywhere. Shingles is also known as herpes zoster or simply zoster. It may not be a life-threatening condition but can turn out quite painful.

Shingles Causes

Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After recovering from chickenpox, the virus may remain inactive for years, staying in the nerve roots in the body.  Sometimes this virus may reactivate and appear as shingles.

Shingles Symptoms

Symptoms that appear with shingles come in the form of a rash. The rash may affect only a small section on one side of the body. Pain, numbness and a burning or tingling sensation may be initially felt prior to a rash developing. The rash may then become fluid-filled blisters that may break open and then develop into crusts. This will then lead to itching as the shingles begin to go away. Some people may also experience fever and chills as well as headaches and fatigue accompanying a bout of the shingles.

Shingles Complications

Although shingles is considered as a non-threatening condition, still it may lead to certain complications. Some people may still experience pain well after the blisters have cleared. This condition is called postherpetic neuralgia and occurs when the damaged nerve fibers may be sending confused signals to the brain, causing pain in the process.

Another complication that shingles may bring about is permanent eye damage if the shingles form in and around the eye. This can lead to painful eye infections that may lead to vision loss.  Bacterial skin infections may also develop if the blisters caused by shingles are not properly treated. Open blisters associated with shingles can pass on the virus causing them to other people upon contact and may cause chickenpox. People with shingles are often advised not to get near the elderly or babies and people with weakened immune systems up until the rashes and blisters have disappeared.

Shingles Treatment

A bout with shingles usually goes away on its own after a few weeks. But treatment may be needed to ease the pain and prevent possible risk of complications. Antiviral medications can be given at the first sign of the shingles rash. Pain relievers for treating shingles may include tricyclic antidepressants, narcotics, and numbing agents such as lidocaine to help deal with the pain.