What is Shingles?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), shingles is caused by varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays dormant (inactive) in the body. This virus can reactivate years later, causing shingles. Approximately one in three people in the United States will have shingles at some point in their life. The condition can occur in the same person more than once, especially if they have risk factors, but this is uncommon.
Shingles is a painful rash that develops on one side of the face or body. The rash consists of blisters that typically scab over in 7 to 10 days. Most cases of shingles clear up within 3 to 5 weeks. People of all ages can get shingles, but most cases are in people over 50 years old. Shingles are also referred to as herpes zoster. According to Healthline, this type of viral infection is characterized by a red skin rash that can cause pain and burning. Shingles usually appear as a stripe of blisters on one side of the body, typically on the torso, neck, or face.
In this blog post, we'll look at what causes shingles, how doctors treat it, and what you should do if you get it so you can prevent yourself from getting Shingles.
Symptoms of Shingles
Shingles can cause a painful, blistering rash that appears on the skin. The symptoms of shingles include:
- Pain, itching, or tingling of the skin
- Painful rash of blister-like sores, usually on one side of the body, often on the face or torso
- Upset stomach
Other signs include nausea and vomiting; fatigue from constant pain plus other side effects such as diarrhea or loss of appetite due to medications taken by doctors to treat this condition.
Stages of Shingles
According to Drug Topics: Voice of Pharmacists, written by Beth Longware Duff, shingles’ clinical manifestations are divided into 3 distinct phases: pre-eruptive, acute eruptive, and chronic.
#1. Pre-eruptive Phase. Also called as preherpetic neuralgia stage usually lasts about 48 hours but can stretch to 10 days in some cases. It is characterized by sensory phenomena along 1 or more dermatomes, which correspond to an area of skin mainly supplied by a single spinal nerve. Symptoms common to this stage include headache, general fatigue, sensitivity to light, and fever.
#2. Acute Eruptive Phase. Marked by a continuation of the physical symptoms of the pre-eruptive phase, plus severe pain and the emergence of lesions. The lesions start as macules (small circumscribed changes in the color of skin that are flat) and quickly progress to clusters of vesicles filled with fluid. New vesicles continue to form and rupture over a 3-to-5-day period. It is during this phase that the virus is easily transmitted to others. The vesicles eventually dry up and crust over, taking up to 4 weeks to heal. Pigmentation changes and scarring on the skin caused by the lesions may be permanent.
#3. Chronic Phase. Also known as postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) occurs in up to 20% of all patients with shingles. It is defined as recurrent pain lasting more than 4 weeks after the vesicles have healed. Other symptoms include abnormal skin sensations like tingling, burning, and numbness caused by pressure on a nerve (paresthesia) and nerve damage (dysesthesia). The resulting pain, which can be excruciating and disabling, can last months and even years.
Causes of Shingles
According to CDC, shingles is caused by varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays dormant (inactive) in their body. The virus can reactivate later, causing shingles. Most people who develop shingles have only one episode during their lifetime. However, you can have shingles more than once.
If you have shingles, direct contact with the fluid from your rash blisters can spread VZV to people who have never had chickenpox or never received the chickenpox vaccine. If they get infected, they will develop chickenpox, not shingles. They could then develop shingles later in life.
The risk of spreading VZV to others is low if you cover the shingles rash. People with shingles cannot spread the virus before their rash blisters appear or after the rash crusts. People with chickenpox are more likely to spread VZV than people with shingles.
- You cannot get shingles from someone who has shingles.
- You can get chickenpox from someone who has shingles if you have never had chickenpox or never received the chickenpox vaccine.
Is Shingles Contagious?
According to Cleveland Clinic, someone with shingles can’t spread shingles to another person, but they can spread chickenpox. The varicella-zoster virus is spread through direct skin-to-skin contact with the fluid that oozes from the blisters. Shingles is rarely spread by breathing in the varicella-zoster virus the way airborne viruses are spread. If your rash is in the blister phase, stay away from those who haven’t had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine, and keep your rash covered.
How do dermatologists diagnose shingles?
American Academy of Dermatology Association says that a dermatologist can often diagnose shingles by looking at the rash on your skin. If there is any question about whether you have shingles, your dermatologist will scrape a bit of fluid from a blister. This will be sent to a lab where a doctor will look at the fluid under a high-powered microscope. When you have shingles, the fluid contains the virus that causes shingles. Seeing the virus confirms that you have shingles. Your dermatologist will also ask about your symptoms. Shingles tends to be painful.
Treatment for Shingles
CDC states that several antiviral medicines—acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir—are available to treat shingles and shorten the length and severity of the illness. These medicines are most effective if you start taking them as soon as possible after the rash appears. If you think you have shingles, contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible to discuss treatment. Pain medicine, either over-the-counter or with a prescription from your doctor, may help relieve the pain caused by shingles. Wet compresses, calamine lotion, and colloidal oatmeal baths (a lukewarm bath mixed with ground-up oatmeal) may help relieve itching.
If you have been inflicted by the pain of shingles, then you will be amazed at how soothing DermaChanges’s Shingles Cream can be. Our perfectly pH-balanced Shingles Cream is a natural formula specially designed to soothe the pain and discomfort of shingles rash by providing protective moisture. This cream is safe, effective, and pure, infused with the finest quality ingredients nature has to offer. You will love its calming effect as it replenishes moisture on your skin.
- Relieves unwanted shingle symptoms and skin irritation.
- Soothes hives, rashes, and itchy, inflamed & irritated skin.
- Boosts skin protective barrier to retain moisture.
- Replenishes and nourishes damaged skin.
- Provides long-lasting hydration.
Tips for Coping with Shingles
The National Institute of Aging (NIA) gives some tips that might help you feel better if you have Shingles.
- Wear loose-fitting, natural-fiber clothing.
- Take an oatmeal bath or use calamine lotion to soothe your skin.
- Apply a cool washcloth to your blisters to ease the pain and help dry the blisters.
- Keep the area clean and try not to scratch the blisters so they don’t become infected or leave a scar.
- Do things that take your mind off your pain. For example, watch TV, read, talk with friends, listen to relaxing music, or work on a hobby such as crafts or gardening.
- Get plenty of rest and eat well-balanced meals.
- Try simple exercises like stretching or walking. Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.
- Avoid stress. It can make the pain worse.
- Share your feelings about your pain with family and friends. Ask for their understanding.
Also, you can limit the spreading of the virus to other people by:
- Staying away from anyone who has not had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine, or who might have a weakened immune system
- Keeping the rash covered
- Not touching or scratching the rash
- Washing your hands often
How to Prevent Shingles?
The NIA says that getting vaccinated can help keep you from developing severe shingles symptoms or complications. All children should receive two doses of the chickenpox vaccine, also known as a varicella immunization. Adults who’ve never had chickenpox should also get this vaccine. The immunization doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t get chickenpox, but it does prevent it in 9 out of 10 people who get the vaccine.
Adults who are 50 years or older should get a shingles vaccine, also known as the varicella-zoster immunization, according to the CDC. This vaccine helps to prevent severe symptoms and complications associated with shingles. There is one shingles vaccine available, Shingrix (recombinant zoster vaccine). The CDC notes that if you have received Zostavax, a shingles vaccine used in the past, you should still get the Shingrix vaccine.
- Gotter A. Shingles: Everything You Should Know. Healthline. Published January 26, 2022. Accessed August 18, 2022. https://www.healthline.com/health/shingles#prevention
- https://www.facebook.com/NIHAging. Shingles. National Institute on Aging. Published 2021. Accessed August 18, 2022. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/shingles#what2
- Shingles (Herpes Zoster). Published 2022. Accessed August 18, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/index.html
- Beth Longware Duff. The Stages of Shingles. Drug Topics. Published January 14, 2021. Accessed August 18, 2022. https://www.drugtopics.com/view/the-stages-of-shingles
- Shingles - Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. Published 2021. Accessed August 18, 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/shingles/symptoms-causes/syc-20353054#:~:text=Shingles%20is%20most%20common%20in,increase%20your%20risk%20of%20shingles
- Shingles: Diagnosis and treatment. Aad.org. Published 2017. Accessed August 18, 2022. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/a-z/shingles-treatment
- Shingles (Herpes Zoster): Symptoms & Treatment. Cleveland Clinic. Published 2017. Accessed August 18, 2022. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/11036-shingles#:~:text=Is%20shingles%20contagious%3F,that%20oozes%20from%20the%20blisters