April 27, 2020
Chickenpox is a well-known childhood illness, but did you know that the same virus — the varicella-zoster virus — can cause an infection when you’re older too?
Shingles is a viral infection that can cause a painful, blistering rash. It can occur anywhere on your body, but it generally appears on either the right or left side of the trunk of your body.
Here’s an overview of what you should know about causes, symptoms, and treatment.
Once you’ve had chickenpox as a child, the virus lies dormant in the nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain. As an adult, a trigger may reactivate it – this time as shingles.
Not everyone who had chickenpox will get shingles. While the cause is not completely understood, older people and those chronically ill are at most risk. Sometimes certain medications can also be a trigger.
The most common signs and symptoms of shingles include pain, burning, itching, numbness, and sensitivity to touch. Some people may also develop fever, headache, fatigue, and a sensitivity to light.
Most people experience pain first and then a rash develops a few days later. Fluid-filled blisters will emerge and eventually break open and crust over.
Possible complications include neurological problems like facial paralysis, hearing or balance problems, and even encephalitis , which is an inflammation of the brain. In some cases, a bacterial skin infection may develop. If the rash occurs near the eye , vision damage can occur.
Shingles is contagious during the blister phase, so it’s important for those with the illness to stay away from others until the blisters scab over, especially those who have never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine. If they do get infected, they’ll develop chickenpox – not shingles.
Once diagnosed, your doctor will prescribe an antiviral drug such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir to facilitate quicker healing. You may also be given pain medication or an anticonvulsant.
Currently, there are two shingles vaccines available. Shingrix is approved for people age 50 years and older and Zostavax is recommended for those 60 and older.
A shingles infection can last between two to six weeks. If you think you may have it, call your healthcare provider right away. Early treatment is the best way to avoid complications.
Information on this site is provided for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professional. You should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication. If you have, or suspect that you have, a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider.