Shingles is a contagious and a very annoying skin disease; it is characterized by rashes and blisters on the skin. Shingles appear in the form of eruptions over a selected area of the skin. In medical terms, shingles is called Herpes Zoster. It is a viral disease, usually associated with the childhood disease, chicken pox. The Herpes Zoster virus affects the elderly with severe pain and itch. Since, Shingles is caused by a virus, it will usually run its course and then go away on its own in a month or two. However, some people report pain for many months.
Researchers believe that the chicken pox virus hibernates within the nerve cells of the body after it has run its course during childhood. The virus lies dormant until many years later when an adult (usually an older adult) becomes ill with another disease or condition which compromises his/her immune system. When the immune system is weakened the Herpes Zoster virus comes out of hibernation and causes skin eruptions and severe nerve pain on the skin.
Symptoms of shingles
The symptoms of shingles include:
Pain – An individual will likely feel tingling or burning pain for no apparent cause in the beginning. The pain is usually located on one side of the body, and it usually presents somewhere one the chest or trunk, but can also present on the shoulder and other parts of the body such as the face, arms and buttocks.
Rash – A reddish rash usually develops in about 1 to 3 days after the initial skin tingling or burning sensation.
Blisters – The red rash soon develop into blisters. The blisters may last up to 2 to 3 weeks. After about 3 weeks, if not infected, the blisters start to crust over. The crusted skin will fall off in about a week. If infected, it can take longer for the blisters to harden and fall off. There may be pain and itching associated with the blisters.
Fever – The individual with shingles may have a mild fever and chills.
Other symptoms include a general feeling of fatigue, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. A person with shingles may also have difficulty with urination.
In rare cases, shingles can develop on the eyes and the eyelids. If shingles develop on the eyes, the patient could develop various vision problems; glaucoma could also result from shingles occurring in the eyes. Anyone with shingles of the eyes should see their medical doctor immediately. The medical doctor will likely send the patient to an eye specialist.
Causes of shingles
Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox in children. Individuals, such as nursing personnel and teachers could be at risk for developing shingles if they are exposed to the virus. The virus lives in the blisters and can spread to others by simple contact. It is vitally important for caregivers to wash their hands frequently when in contact with anyone with chicken pox or shingles.
Individuals taking immunosuppressive drugs and/or undergoing radiation therapy for cancer could be at risk for developing shingles due to a lowered immune system.
Treatment for shingles
The skin eruptions can most often with antiviral medications. Over-the-counter topical skin preparations can be applied for the itch. The doctor may suggest acetaminophen or ibuprofen to be given for pain, or a prescription for pain may be given. The doctor may prescribe steroids to minimize the nerve pain associated with shingles. Cool compresses and bathing in cool water sometimes helps the itching and nagging pain.
There may be no way to prevent shingles in older people, but you can have your children vaccinated for chicken pox. Taking steps to avoid the chicken pox can help to avoid getting shingles later in life. If you never get the chicken pox, you can’t get shingles. Though shingles can spread from one person to another, it is an easily curable disease.
When the blisters are on the skin, special care should be taken to cleanse the skin. The patient should be isolated as much as possible so that no one comes into contact with weeping blisters. Clothes and bed linens should be washed separate from other family members’ laundry.