Shingles (Herpes Zoster) is a viral infection. It causes a painful rash that is typically seen on your midsection. They are caused by the same strand of virus that produces chickenpox. The virus may remain in your body if you’ve had chickenpox before. The virus can potentially reactivate from its dormant state and appear as shingles.
Early diagnosis and treatments are critical to a short-lived shingles infection. And while they are not life-threatening, the virus is very painful and can cause complications.
What Causes Shingles?
Shingles are caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. Only people who have had chickenpox can develop shingles. This specific strand of the herpes virus can lay inactive for years. But it can re-emerge, and the virus, which was previously lying dormant in the nervous system, can travel along nerve fibers and cause shingles. Where the rash appears reflects the affected nerves.
The reason it re-emerge is unclear. Shingles is more common in older adults and those with weak immune systems, which may be why the virus appears after many years of not causing any symptoms at all.
The signs and symptoms of shingles usually only affect a particular area of the body. Regardless of where the rash appears, pain is the first symptom. It can vary in degree depending on the location of the inflammation. Although rare, it is possible to experience the pain of shingles without having a visible rash. Because of this, the symptoms can sometimes be confused with other heart or lung conditions.
The rash appears as a strip of blisters, most commonly seen on the torso, around the eye, or on the neck or face.
Other symptoms include:
- Pain, burning, numbness, or tingling
- Sensitivity to touch
- A red rash that begins a few days after the pain
- Fluid-filled blisters that break open and crust over
Along with the rash, patients often experience a fever, headaches, fatigue, and sensitivity to light.
How is Shingles Treated?
There is no direct cure for shingles, but seeing a doctor and having an early diagnosis can reduce the risk of complications. Anti-viral medications can quicken the healing process. If interventional care is sought after early enough, effective treatments are possible.
The best time to treat it is within the first two weeks of having pain. After the first month, the success rate of reducing pain and eliminating the virus goes down considerably. If a patient has consistent and ongoing pain due to a shingles outbreak, interventional treatments should be considered.
Treatment options depend on the location of the shingles’ pain. For pain that occurs in the face, a stellate ganglion or trigeminal nerve block may be recommended. If the pain occurs in the neck or lower body, a series of epidural steroid injections may be administered. Lumbar sympathetic blocks are another method of treatment. All of these types of treatments are performed in an outpatient setting.
Most people only get it once, but it is possible to get them two or more times. To prevent the chances of getting this virus, physicians recommend that children receive a chickenpox vaccine. For adults, it is recommended that they receive a shingles vaccine.