Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is an infection of the nerve and it’s surrounding skin. The infection is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus. The virus tends to flare up in adulthood resulting in a painful rash that spreads in a linear manner across the affected nerve. Estimates indicate that 1 out of every 4 people will experience at least one episode of shingles in their lifetime.
What Causes Shingles?
Shingles is a reactivation of the chickenpox virus and tend to affect people who have had chickenpox previously, usually in childhood. The reason why the virus resurfaces isn’t fully understood but is generally attributed to a weakening of the immune system, which can arise due to:
- Lowered immunity as a result of chemotherapy or immunosuppressant medications
- Recent illness or surgery
- Injuries to the skin, sunburn etc
These are a few of the reasons why the dormant virus flares up, but there is no single identifiable cause for an outbreak of shingles.
What Are The Symptoms?
Pain and discomfort are the first symptoms of shingles. Initially, you will feel a sharp, tingling burning pain beneath your skin, and within a few days, you will see bright red pimples, rashes, and blisters develop. At first sight, it may seem like a heat rash, but once the pain intensifies, the rashes begin to spread.
Once it starts, the pain can be intense – and depending on where it emanates, people often mistake the initial stages of the shingles for heart, lung or kidney problems. Some people may even experience pain without signs of a rash. The pain may be a constant, dull or like a burning sensation and its intensity can vary from mild to severe. You may even feel sharp, shooting pains from time to time, and the affected area of skin will usually be tender.
Since shingles are concentrated along a particular nerve, the signs and symptoms affect only a small section or one side of your body. Other symptoms include:
- A splotchy red rash that begins a few days after the pain
- Fluid-filled blisters that break open and crust over
Can Stress Cause Shingles?
To answer the question, yes, stress can be a contributing factor to shingles, primarily because there is a direct correlation between the nervous and immune systems. Physical and psychological stressors can interfere with the way our bodies’ function.
Chronic pain is a stressor that may cause the varicella-zoster virus to reactivate because it contributes to emotional distress that results in depression. Trauma or surgery-related injuries have been shown to cause a reactivation of the virus as well, concentrated around the area of injury.
Individuals with herpes zoster were significantly more likely to have had negative life events in the 2, 3, or 6 months before the onset of zoster, and to have had significantly more total life events in the 6 months before the outbreak.
How Long Does Shingles Last?
An episode of shingles usually lasts between 2-4 weeks and generally doesn’t cross over the midline of the body, which is the upper area, from below the eyes to the torso. While the virus can affect any part of your body, the most commonly affected areas are the chest, upper back, shoulder, and stomach.
Is Shingles Contagious?
The good news is that shingles aren’t contagious, like conjunctivitis or chicken pox.
But the VCZ virus spread from a person who has active shingles to an unaffected person and triggers chickenpox if that person has never had chickenpox before.
What Is The Course Of Treatment?
While shingles isn’t a life-threatening condition, it is a very painful one. Vaccines at an early age can help reduce the risk of shingles, and early detection and treatment can help reduce the duration of the infection and any complications that may crop up.
Since it is a viral infection, antibiotics cannot be used to combat it – so the course of treatment is centred on relieving symptoms and pain. Adequate rest is a must. Other treatments include:
- Pain relief medications such as paracetamol
- Wet compresses, calamine lotion, and colloidal oatmeal baths may help relieve some of the itching
- Lotions and creams for the rash and itching and steroid creams may be prescribed if the rash is severe
- Antiviral medications such as acyclovir. These do not destroy the virus but can help to reduce the duration of the symptoms
- Antibiotics may be used only if the skin rash gets infected
- Acupuncture can also be effective in relieving symptoms in some cases
Several antiviral medicines like acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir can shorten the length and severity of illness and should be taken as soon as possible after the rash appears.
If the rash has formed around the eyes, a visit to the ophthalmologist is in order, to prevent damage to the cornea.
If you are experiencing pain, or see the first signs of a rash that resembles chicken pox, consult a doctor today. To find a doctor near you or to learn more about shingles and homes remedies, visit www.skinandhairacademy.in