Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a painful, blistering skin rash caused by the varicella-zoster virus – the same virus that causes chickenpox. After you’ve had chickenpox, the virus lies inactive in nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain. Years later, the virus may reactivate as shingles. It usually appears in a band or strip on one side of the face or body. Shingles pain is, for many people, quite striking in its severity.
Causes & Risk Factors
After a person has chickenpox, the virus causes it to go dormant (“sleep”) in the body’s nerve roots. In some people, it stays dormant forever. In others, the virus can become active again due to several factors, including:
- Certain medications
- Immune system weakness
People older than 60 or who had chickenpox before one’s age 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 Ophthalmicus (HZO): 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 the infection.
- The first symptom is usually one-sided pain, tingling, or burning.
- Next, red patches on the skin, followed by small blisters, appear.
- Then, 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.
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 to determine if 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 shingles pain and rashes are related.
CONTACT US TODAY
Singles Pain Management & Treatment
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.
- The shingles vaccine, if you’re over age 50, may help you avoid getting shingles.
- Soothing baths – such as colloidal oatmeal or starch baths – or soothing lotions such as calamine help relieve itching and discomfort.
At PMIR Medical Center, we offer various shingles pain management and treatment options, including: