Shingles is caused by varicella zoster, the same virus that causes chickenpox.
Varicella virus is highly contagious and spreads from infected blisters. Once the rash crusts over, you can no longer transmit the virus. Transmission can be reduced by covering the blisters or by staying away from other people during the time of your infection.
Symptoms usually only affect a small area of your body, along a dermatome. A dermatome is a nerve branch stemming from your spinal cord. Symptoms will include
- Pain, burning, or numbness
- Sensitivity to touch
- A red rash
Some people may experience
- Upset stomach
- Sensitivity to light
The rash is always unilateral (on one side of the body), and often occurs on the face. Occasionally, people with weaker immune systems may develop a widespread rash that closely resembles chickenpox. In rare instances, shingles can affect the eye, leading to vision loss.
A serious complication of shingles is called postherpetic neuralgia, or PHN. It is ongoing nerve pain at the site of the eruption. The pain from PHN can be debilitating and can interfere with daily life.
Most people will only have one shingles outbreak in their lifetime, although multiple outbreaks are possible. The best prevention is immunization.
Antiviral medications, such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir, are recommended for the treatment of shingles to shorten the severity and length of the infection. Over-the-counter pain medication may also be necessary to alleviate pain caused by shingles. Calamine lotion and wet compresses may be used to reduce itching.
Treatment is most effective if started as soon as symptoms appear. If you are having symptoms, contact your primary care physician at Premier Health Associates. We are open 7 days a week.