What are shingles and how to you get them?

If you had chicken pox as a youngster you’re a great candidate for shingles! Once you’ve had the chicken pox, the varicella-zoster virus takes up residence in the human body and becomes dormant. The nerves provide housing to the virus. Once the virus becomes active again in these nerves, you’ve experienced a shingles attack.

And, shingles are a painful, blistering type of skin rash which is caused by the varicella-zoster virus.

What are the causes of shingles?

Why shingles and the varicella-zoster virus becomes active again is totally not known. Interestingly enough, what causes shingles can still be a mystery even though some individuals may only experience one attack. And, if you’re over age 60 the chance of you getting a case of shingles in about 1 in 4. You’re also susceptible to shingles if you had a chicken pox case before age 1 or if you’ve had a problem with your immune system which has been weakened by excessive medications or an accompanying disease.

Are shingles contagious?

Yes! But when is shingles contagious? Interestingly, if you have not had a case of chicken pox and



you come into direct contact with a person that has the shingles rash, you can be infected. But, you will not get shingles you’ll catch a case of chicken pox.

What are the symptoms of shingles?

There are a variety of shingles symptoms but the initial symptom most people experience is that of a pain located on one side of the body accompanied by a tingling, or burning sensation. The skin rash is normally the last symptom to appear preceded by the pain and burning which can be quite severe.

Many individuals experience red patches on the skin along with small blisters. Once the blisters have formed and broken, small ulcers form which eventually dry and crust over.    This crust normally will fall off within 2 to 3 weeks if not picked earlier and most people will not experience scarring.

Many individuals show the rash in the stomach or chest area in the frontal area and around the spine in the back area.

Shingles has been known to exhibit itself in the face, eyes, mouth, and ears regions. Should you experience shingles in the facial area you could also have pain, muscle weakness, and a rash on many areas of the face. If so, please reference the Ramsay Hunt syndrome.

Additional shingles symptoms may include the following:

Abdominal pain
Difficulty moving some of the muscles in the face
Drooping eyelid (ptosis)
Fever and chills
General ill-feeling
Genital lesions
Hearing loss
Joint pain
Loss of eye motion
Swollen glands (lymph nodes)
Taste problems
Vision problems

Shingles Signs and tests

Visit your physician, skin care specialist or dermatologist immediately. Most likely you’ll go through a battery of skin tests and also a family history. Usually only one skin sample is needed to determine if you’ve been infected with the varicella-zoster virus. Some physicians may include a blood test to confirm an increase in the white blood cell count and an infection. This will not confirm that the rash on the skin is caused by shingles.

Natural treatment for shingles

Many times physicians prescribe an antiviral medication to alleviate the shingles problem. The goal of the drug is pain reduction and shortening the course of the disease. These are some of the more popular medications used in the battle against shingles: Acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir.

Individuals experiencing shingles could also be prescribed anti-inflammatory medications referred to as corticosteroids. These medications would include prednisone, a steroid that can eliminate swelling as well as alleviate pain.

Other medicines may include:

  • Antihistamines to reduce itching (taken by mouth or applied to the skin)
  • Pain medicines
  • Zostrix
  • The use of a cool wet compresses has been successful in pain management. Other options include baths and lotions (colloidal oatmeal bath, starch baths, or calamine lotion) which have been known to be successful in reducing itching and discomfort.
  • Fever is a side effect of shingles, bed rest until the fever goes down is recommended.
  • The epidermis of the skin must be kept clean and free of dirt. Any contaminated items should be cleaned or disposed of immediately.

What is the duration of shingles?

In most individuals the herpes zoster virus will leave in about 2 to 3 weeks. Recurrence of shingles is rare. Individuals that have had an attacks of the nerves could experience some paralysis or weakness but this is normally a temporary condition.

What are the complications from shingles?

Pain associated with shingles is referred to as postherputic neuralgia and may last for a few months. This is caused by nerve damage following an outbreak of shingles. The bad news is this conditions can be very painful ranging from mild to severe. This type of reaction normally occurs in people over age 60.

Other complications associated with shingles include:

  • Another attack of shingles
  • Blindness (if shingles occurs in the eye)
  • Deafness
  • People with a weakened immune system could experience infection including encephalitis or sepsis
  • Bacterial skin infections
  • Ramsay Hunt syndrome (shingles on the face)

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