Shingles is a viral infection caused by reactivation of the chickenpox virus in the body, causing a painful, blistering rash. You can get shingles if you’ve had chickenpox when you were young, as the virus that caused chickenpox is still inside your body. When the chickenpox cleared, the virus moved from your skin to your nerves. If this virus travels back to your skin, you’ll get shingles instead of chickenpox.
How do you know if you have shingles? The American Academy of Dermatology cites these symptoms:
- 1 to 2 days before rash appears: You may have pain, burning or tingling on an area of skin where the rash will develop
- Rash appears: It usually appears on one side of your body, often on the torso. However, it can appear anywhere on your skin. You may get more blisters after the rash appears
Rash starts to clear: As the rash clears, the blisters may crack open, bleed and scab over. For most people, the rash will clear within 2 to 4 weeks.
What Is Shingles?
What exactly is shingles? Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a viral infection that causes a painful rash with blisters to develop on the face or body. While shingles can appear anywhere on the body, it typically manifests as a single stripe of blisters that wraps around either the right or left side of the torso, or on one side of the face. It is important to note that shingles can lead to serious health complications, with the most common being postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). PHN is a condition characterized by intense, burning pain that can persist long after the shingles rash and blisters have healed. Additionally, the risk of developing PHN increases with age.
Shingles Symptoms: Unveiling the Unseen Agony
Shingles, a notorious troublemaker, stealthily targets a specific area on one side of the body, face, or neck, leaving its victims in excruciating pain. This pain, often the initial warning sign, can be misleading, mimicking symptoms of other ailments like heart, kidney, or lung conditions. To shed light on this enigma, we present a comprehensive list of the most prevalent signs and symptoms associated with shingles.
- Pain: A relentless agony that engulfs the affected area.
- Burning, Numbness, or Tingling: A peculiar sensation that sets the nerves ablaze, leaving the skin either numb or tingling.
- Sensitivity to Touch: Even the gentlest touch can trigger an intense reaction, causing discomfort.
- Red Rash: A fiery red rash emerges, following the path of the pain, serving as a visual cue.
- Fluid-Filled Blisters: These blisters, resembling tiny reservoirs of torment, rupture and form crusts, adding to the distress.
- Itching and Skin Discomfort: An incessant itchiness torments the skin, further exacerbating the discomfort.
- Fever: The body’s temperature rises, as if battling an invisible enemy within.
- Headache: A persistent ache in the head, adding to the burden of suffering.
- Sensitivity to Light: Even the gentlest rays of light become unbearable, intensifying the torment.
- Fatigue: An overwhelming weariness engulfs the body, draining its energy reserves.
These symptoms, like a sinister orchestra, play their discordant tunes, leaving those afflicted with shingles in a state of anguish.
Is Shingles Contagious?
The herpes zoster infection is not contagious. It is impossible to contract shingles directly from another person who is suffering from it. However, there exists a slight risk that an individual with a shingles rash may transmit the virus to someone who has never had chickenpox or received the chickenpox vaccine. This risk is particularly heightened for those with weakened or suppressed immune systems, pregnant women, and newborns.
To prevent the spread of the virus to susceptible individuals, those with shingles can take certain precautions. These include covering the rash, refraining from touching or scratching it, practicing frequent handwashing, and avoiding close contact with individuals at high risk of contracting the virus until the rash has crusted over.
It is important to note that certain factors increase the likelihood of contracting shingles. These primary risk factors include the following:
- Adults over 50 years of age
- People with diseases, such as cancer or HIV
- Those with immune deficiencies
- Undergoing cancer treatments
- Prolonged use of steroids
- Taking drugs given after organ transplantation
What Causes Shingles?
Shingles, a result of exposure to the varicella-zoster virus (the same virus responsible for chickenpox), can affect anyone who has previously had chickenpox. After recovering from chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in the nervous system for years. However, it may reactivate at some point, traveling through nerve pathways to the skin and causing shingles. It is important to note that not everyone who had chickenpox will develop shingles, but approximately one-third of the U.S. population is at risk.
What Triggers A Shingles Outbreak?
The exact triggers for a shingles outbreak remain unclear, but suppressed immunity due to aging or certain medical conditions plays a significant role. Older adults and individuals with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to shingles compared to younger, healthier individuals. Other factors that may contribute to shingles outbreaks include certain medications, treatments, immune-suppressing conditions, stress, poor diet, and mood disorders, all of which can compromise the immune system.
How Long Does Shingles Last?
The duration of shingles typically lasts 3 to 5 weeks and follows a consistent pattern of pain and healing. In individuals with healthy immune systems, the blisters usually clear within 7 to 10 days, and the pain subsides within 1 to 2 months. The initial signs may include burning sensations, tingling pain, numbness, or itching on one side of the body. A rash appears a few days later, followed by fluid-filled blisters. After approximately a week to 10 days, the blisters dry out and crust over, eventually clearing up within a few weeks. While most people experience shingles only once, it is possible to have multiple episodes throughout one’s lifetime.