Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a painful skin disease. Shingles creates bands of blisters usually on just one side of the body which are full of liquid, pus, etc.
Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful rash. Although shingles can occur anywhere on your body, it most often appears as a single stripe of blisters that wraps around either the left or the right side of your torso. Throughout the world, the incidence rate of herpes zoster every year ranges from 1.2 to 3.4 cases per 1,000 healthy individuals, increasing to 3.9 to 11.8 per year per 1,000 individuals among those older than 65 years. Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus - the same virus that causes chickenpox. After you've had chickenpox, the virus lies inactive in nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain. Years later, the virus may reactivate as shingles. While it isn't a life-threatening condition, shingles can be very painful. Vaccines can help reduce the risk of shingles, while early treatment can help shorten a shingles infection and lessen the chance of complications. Shingles is most common in older adults and people who have weak immune systems because of stress, injury, certain medicines, or other reasons. Most people who get shingles will get better and will not get it again.
The disease settles over two to three weeks but the pain may remain for a month after that. Those who have had chicken pox in childhood are likely to get shingles as they age.
After the first infection, the virus may remain latent in some nerve fibers and become active again due to stress, pregnancy, compromised immune system, certain drugs or aging.
Reactivated herpes zoster affects only one side of the face or body, beginning as a rash and developing into red patches which later become blisters and sores. It can also affect the eye (e.g. corneal inflammation and scarring, conjunctivitis, involvement of the retina and optic nerve).
Signs and symptoms of herpes zoster infection include fever, headache, fatigue, rash, Erythematosus and sensitive skin, blisters and sores, itching, tingling, burning and pain sensations.
Shingles is painful as the virus travels along the nerves to get to the skin, causing damage and inflammation along the way.
The earliest symptoms of herpes zoster, which include headache, fever, and malaise, are nonspecific, and may result in an incorrect diagnosis. These symptoms are commonly followed by sensations of burning pain, itching, hyperesthesia (oversensitivity), or paresthesia ("pins and needles": tingling, pricking, or numbness). The pain may be extreme in the affected dermatome, with sensations that are often described as stinging, tingling, aching, numbing or throbbing, and can be interspersed with quick stabs of agonizing pain. At first, the rash appears similar to the first appearance of hives.
For some days, new blisters keep appearing. They are full of liquid and are very painful. After that, the blisters begin crusting and fall off in two to three weeks. Pain may remain on the affected area even if all the blisters clear. If you get a blister on the nose, you should inform your doctor immediately because your eyes may get affected. It can lead to vision loss.
When the eye is affected, symptoms include redness, dryness and sensitivity to light. Other eye problems may include inflamed eyelids, blurring of vision, corneal inflammation and scarring, glaucoma, cataract, diplopia or double vision and loss of sensation.
If you are having pain with shingles, it will usually only last for three to five weeks - but in some instances, the illness becomes a condition known as postherpetic neuralgia, and is accompanied by more debilitating, chronic pain. Postherpetic neuralgia refers to pain that may continue up to six months as nerves heal very slowly.
Treatment of herpes zoster consists of anti-virals (e.g. Acyclovir), ant-inflammatory medications (e.g. NSAIDS) and topical creams (e.g. Cortisone). The blisters should not be forced to open. The sores may be dried by compressing them with vinegar (diluted with lukewarm water) for at least ten minutes twice a day. As crusts and scabs leave the skin dry, petroleum jelly may be applied to the area. The blisters and sores usually heal in two to four weeks but may leave scars. Ocular herpes zoster is managed with eye drops and/or ointments.
Shingles clears itself in two to three weeks. But as the condition is quite painful, doctors try to clear it sooner. Painkillers are prescribed along with anti-viral drugs. Sometimes your doctor may also prescribe steroids. If secondary bacterial infection appears, antibiotics are given. Taking rest is very important. Application of calamine solutions may reduce burning and itching. The patient should keep away from others because the virus can be passed on. The passed on virus does not cause shingles but causes chicken pox in the new person who gets the virus.
Although you can't really spread shingles just by mere contact, you can spread the virus to individuals who have never had chicken pox or have not been vaccinated through direct contact with your blisters. Common sense should therefore tell you that you should avoid direct contact with infants, children and pregnant women. In a lot of people who have had chicken pox, there is no need for direct contact with someone who has them to get shingles. A poor immune system is enough to trigger shingles.
Shingles is very contagious. It can be spread from any affected person to both children and adults who have never had chickenpox. Instead of actually developing shingles, these children or adults will develop chickenpox, but once they have had chickenpox, they cannot catch shingles or contract the virus from someone else. However, once you have been infected, you do have the potential to develop shingles later in your life.
Although a good and healthy lifestyle don't directly prevent shingles, it can strengthen the body's immune system against the disease. Make sure that you cut down on smoking and drinking too much alcohol. You should also cut your stress levels since stress can affect your immune system. It would also do your body a lot of good if you exercised regularly and ate a balanced diet with foods rich in vitamins and minerals. The U.S. CDC recommends shingles vaccine for seniors aged 60 and older.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and other institutes of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conduct shingles research in laboratories at the NIH and also support additional research through grants to major medical institutions across the country. Current research is aimed at finding new methods for treating shingles and its complications.
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