Shingles

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A couple of weeks ago, I came to see [Dr. Hersel] for my first lumbar epidural and I have to admit, I was terrified of the idea of a needle coming so close to my spinal cord. [He] immediately put me at ease with you kindness, compassion and professionalism.

- M. M., Simi Valley, CA

What is Shingles

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a painful, blistering skin rash that is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. It usually appears in a band or strip on one side of the face or body.

Causes/Risk Factors

After a person has chickenpox, the virus that causes it goes dormant (“sleeps”) in the body’s nerve roots. In some people, it stays dormant forever. In others, the virus can become active again due to a number of factors, including:

  • Aging
  • Disease
  • Stress
  • Immune system weakness
  • Certain medications

People who are older than 60 or had chickenpox before the age of one are more likely to develop the condition.

In some cases, shingles can cause long-term complications—and the treatment plan is dependent upon those complications:

  • Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN): Characterized by persistent pain that lasts for months or even years after the shingles rash heals, postherpetic neuralgia can be treated with opioids, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants to relieve pain.
  • Herpes zoster opthalmicus: Defined as a rash on the forehead, cheek, nose or around one eye that can threaten sight, the recommended treatment is rest, cool compresses and antiviral medicines.
  • Disseminated zoster: A blistery rash that forms over a large portion of the body and can affect the heart, lungs, liver, pancreas, joints and intestinal tract. Treatment can include antiviral medicines to challenge the virus and antibiotics to stop infection.

Symptoms

  • The first symptom is usually one-sided pain, tingling or burning.
  • Next, red patches on the skin, followed by small blisters, appear.
  • The blisters fill with fluid and then crust over. It generally takes 2-4 weeks for the blisters to heal, and scarring is possible.
  • Itching often accompanies the rash and blisters.
  • Some people also experience fever and chills, general achiness, headache and fatigue.

Diagnosis

Tests are rarely needed for shingles, since the condition can usually be diagnosed by looking at your skin and asking questions about your medical history. However, a skin sample can be taken that it is infected with the varicella-zoster virus. Blood tests may show an increase in white blood cells and antibodies to the chickenpox virus but cannot confirm that the rash is due to shingles.

Treatment

At PMIR Medical Center, we understand that pain is a complex condition that affects the whole person—body, mind and spirit. We provide a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to treatment, customizing the most effective treatment plans for our patients and empowering them to become a collaborative partner in their recovery process.

While there is no cure for shingles, treatment may shorten the length of illness and prevent complications. Self-medication can include:

  • Antihistamines to reduce itching.
  • Cool, wet compresses to reduce pain.
  • Soothing baths—such as colloidal oatmeal or starch baths—or soothing lotions such as calamine to help relieve itching and discomfort.

At PMIR, we offer treatment options for shingles that include:

We specialize in non-medication-based therapies to help our patients achieve sustained pain relief. However, we do offer pain medication, when necessary, as a supplement to other treatment options.

To learn more about how we treat shingles and the treatment plan that might be best for you, schedule an appointment with a PMIR physician today.

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PMIR Pain Checker

The PMIR symptom checker is intended for educational purposes only. PMIR encourages patients to educate themselves on all pain symptoms and the treatments we provide. However, we recommend anyone who may be suffering from any pain to not self-diagnose, or to supplement seeking medical advice with information on our site. If you are in pain, or have a medical emergency contact one of our offices or dial 911.