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:
- 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.
- 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.
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 find out 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 the rash is due to shingles.
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.
The shingles vaccine, if you’re over age 50, may help you avoid getting shingles.
At PMIR, we offer treatment options for shingles that include: