Shingles is a viral infection that manifests as a painful rash. The condition is caused by the varicella zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chicken pox. The virus lies dormant in the body after a bout of chickenpox and can reappear at any time as shingles. The virus is fairly harmless, but it can be dangerous for newborns, pregnant women, people over age 70 and those with compromised immune systems. Shingles can also cause permanent damage if the rash occurs close to the eyes and is not treated promptly. There is no cure for shingles, but there are treatments that can lessen the discomfort and duration. It is estimated that about half the adult population will develop shingles at some point.
Shingles can appear anywhere on the body, but it typically appears as a band of painful blisters wrapping around one-half of the torso.
Common Symptoms of Shingles
- General pain
- Skin sensitivity and itching
- Rash of small blisters that open and form a crust
Less Common Symptoms of Shingles
After a person contracts chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in the body, sometimes for decades. For unknown reasons, the virus sometimes reactivates and causes shingles. Researchers speculate that it may be connected to lowered immunity since it occurs more frequently among older people and those with compromised immune function.
A person that has shingles is contagious until the rash has scabbed over. The virus can be transmitted to vulnerable populations, as well as anyone who has not had chickenpox.
Shingles is usually easy to identify, and can be diagnosed in a few ways.
- Shingles is identified by the rash and pain that appear only on one side of the body.
- Though shingles has fairly clear symptoms, a doctor may send a tissue culture to a laboratory for further confirmation.
Shingles is quite painful and can last up to six weeks. There is no cure for the varicella zoster virus, but there are a number of treatments that can ease pain and help speed healing.
- Topical numbing agents and painkillers can help alleviate discomfort so that patients can resume normal function during the healing process.
- Home remedies include cool compresses and soothing baths, along with relaxation to reduce stress.
- Also, studies show that chicken pox vaccines can help prevent the occurrence of shingles.