Shingles: Insights and Summary

Shingles affects a specific area of the body but does not cross over the midline of the human body. The main symptom of shingles is a painful rash associated with itchy blisters that contains particles of the shingles virus. An episode of shingles can last from two to four weeks, and 25% of shingle patients develop a nerve pain called postherpetic neuralgia in the area that was infected with shingles.

The first symptom of shingles is extreme sensitivity or pain in a broad band on one side of the body. One will feel tingling, constant aching, burning, or a “lightning bolt” pain. These symptoms may appear on the face, more likely so around the eyes, and medical help should immediately be seeked. Other nonspecific shingles symptoms that can come up at the same time are chills, itching, fever, and headaches. After one to three days after the pain starts, a rash that consists of blisters and red bumps will emerge on the skin and be equally as painful as before.

They will soon be filled with pus and scabs will form ten to twelve days later. In only a few cases, is only pain present without any blisters or rashes. The rash will slowly fade away and the scabs from the blisters and bumps will fall off within the next two to three weeks. This may result in scarring. Some patients may develop postherpetic neuralgia post shingles.

This is when the specific pain of shingles remains after the rash is gone. 15 percent of people with shingles develop postherpetic neuralgia, and in those cases, those who are elderly are more likely to develop postherpetic neuralgia.

When should a person seek medical help? If a person develops a pain or rash on only one side of their body, they need to go to a doctor as soon as they can.

The medications are only effective if they are given early (1 to 3 days after the rash develops). Individuals should seek medical attention immediately if they have an illness that decreases their ability to fight off an infection. These people may be able to avoid complications if treated in the early stages of shingles. It is particularly common for pregnant women to develop shingles. Even if a pregnant woman has shingles, the shingles do not pox little or no threat to the fetus. However, pregnant women should still seek a doctor to manage their care.

Shingles is caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus. This virus causes chickenpox. After having chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus lies inactive inside the body. However, it can be reactivated at the later stage and cause shingles. It is still uncertain as to why the virus is reactivated, but it is linked to having lowered immunity. The immunity to illness and infection can become lowered with old age, physical and emotional stress, HIV and AIDS, recent bone marrow transplant, recent organ transplant, or chemotherapy.

There is no cure for shingles, but treatment can help ease symptoms until condition improves. Shingles gets better within around two or four weeks. One can do a number of things to help relieve the symptoms of shingles. One should keep the rash as clean and dry as possible. Loose-fitting is recommended to avoid clothing material to interfere with shingles. One should not use any topical antibiotics or adhesive dressings such as plasters. Calamine lotion is also recommended; it has a cooling effect on the skin and can be used to relieve itching. Weeping blisters can relieved with a cool compress several times a day to help soothe the skin and keep blisters clean. Compression treatments should be used around 20 minutes at a time and should be stopped if blisters start oozing. Cloths, towels, or flannels should not be shared if one has shingles rash. 

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