Shingles, also called herpes zoster, is a very painful skin rash that is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. Shingles can also cause blistering on the skin rash which adds to the pain factor. The varicella-zoster virus is the same virus that causes chickenpox, therefore shingles has been historically referred to as “adult chickenpox” as it is a similar skin infection and blistering rash.
Causes of Shingles
If you had the chickenpox as a child, you are at risk of developing shingles as an adult. The varicella-zoster virus that causes chickenpox remains in nerves of your body, even though it is inactive. As an adult, it can become active in the nerves and cause shingles. You are also at risk of getting shingles if you had the chickenpox before you were 1 years old, have a weakened immune system from a disease or medications, or are older than 60. An adult who did not have chickenpox as a child but comes into contact with shingles, will actually develop chickenpox, not shingles.
Symptoms of Shingles
Signs and symptoms of shingles come on at different times, with the very first symptoms being tingling, burning, or one-sided pain. The pain and burning can range from moderate to severe and may occur before you notice a rash or blistering. Most people with shingles will then get red patches of skin with small blisters. The blisters will break eventually which causes small sores that then dry out and form crusts. These should fall off in 2-3 weeks and not cause scarring. The rash is most often located along the spine, on the abdomen, and on the chest. You can also get the rash and blisters on your face, eyes, mouth or ears. Additional symptoms of shingles include abdominal pain, fever and chills, an overly ill feeling, genital sores, joint pain, headache, or swollen lymph nodes.
In most cases, tests don’t need to be performed to diagnose shingles. Your doctor should be able to perform a physical examination, including looking at your rashes and blisters, checking your vitals, and asking about your medical history in order to diagnose the medical condition. Occasionally, a skin sample will be taken to find out if your skin is infected with the virus that can cause shingles, though this is usually just for confirmation.
To treat shingles, your doctor may prescribe a medication that helps fight off the virus, also called an anti-viral drug. This will not only prevent further complications and shorten the time you have the disease, but will also help reduce pain and inflammation. You can also take a pain medication, antihistamine for the itching, or a topical cream.