The virus varicella-zoster is the virus that causes shingles. This virus also causes chickenpox. Individuals who have had chickenpox have the virus hiding in the root of their nerves. The virus can reactivate and cause shingles. Symptoms of shingles include a rash, headache, fever, and chills.
Not all individuals infected with chickenpox will develop shingles. In fact, only 20% of individuals develop shingles. Typically, it occurs in the population of people ages 50 to 70.
Cases of shingles have been reported to occur at all ages, although it is rare in children under the age of 10. Children are more likely to get shingles if they had the chickenpox when under 12 months of age, or if their mother had chickenpox during pregnancy.
Shingles is a latent infection. This is a condition that occurs when the virus is present in the body, but dormant and reactivated. The virus can be reactivated many years after you’ve had the chickenpox. When the virus is activated, illness can reoccur. Reactivation usually occurs when your immune system is compromised. Examples include: illness, older age, certain cancers, HIV, radiation treatment, and certain medications that suppress the immune system. It can be difficult to identify what triggered the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus.
People with shingles can pass on the varicella-zoster virus to individuals who have not been infected with the virus. They usually pass it onto children, who will then develop chickenpox, not shingles. Shingles only occurs when the latent virus is reactivated; not from catching the virus from another person who is has shingles.
Early symptoms of shingles include numbness, itchiness, sensitivity, or pain. A rash follows these symptoms several days later. The rash can cause fluid filled blisters, accompanied by pain, tingling, or a burning feeling.
After getting the chickenpox, the virus is dormant inside certain nerves in the body. When the shingles rash occurs, it will only happen in certain areas of the body that are connected to the nerve cells where the virus was “sleeping”. Common areas that the rash occurs in is the back, chest, neck, buttocks, and occasionally the scalp and face.
The rash contains numerous tiny fluid filled blisters and is red. The rash will spread within the first few days, but will vary between each individual. It typically will congregate to one side of the body. The blisters will eventually break and crust over.
Before the rash breaks, you’ll find that the rash can be extremely itchy and even painful. It usually lasts about 7-10 days and should completely clear up in 30 days. In rare cases, individuals may feel pain for several months.
Those with suppressed immune systems will have more severe rashes and symptoms of shingles. It will take longer to heal and can potentially lead to scarring. The virus can also spread to other areas of your body.
Shingles can lead to post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). It is characterized by severe pain that can last for months or even years.
Shingles can also spread to the nerve that connects to your eye. This can cause an eye infection or eye painwhen exposed to light. If you feel any eye pain, you should consult with your doctor immediately. When left untreated, it can potentially lead to blindness. Shingles that spread to nerves in your face can cause symptoms such as temporary ear pain, loss of hearing and taste, as well as facial paralysis.
Applying calamine lotion to your blisters may help with the pain. Some individuals also find relief coating the blisters with a cool wet cloth.
If you suspect you have symptoms of shingles, it is best to visit your doctor right away. This can reduce the chances of developing complications. Your doctor may prescribe some antiviral medication to you. These medications can minimize the rash from spreading as well as the pain associated with it.
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