Shingles Disease - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Have you been noticing some sort of a rash on your back? Is it rather itchy and painful? Read to learn in detail about the shingles disease.
| Thursday, June 06, 2013

Shingles or Herpes Zoster is a painful medical condition that is caused by "Varicella Zoster virus" and is also called Herpes zoster or zoster. Shingles is characterized with the formation of rash or blisters on areas of the skin and is the result of the reactivation in adulthood of the chicken pox infection that a person has had in childhood. In this condition the infection can be seen on small areas around one particular side on the body unlike in chicken pox where large areas are covered with the rash.

Causes of Shingles

Any individual who has previously had chicken pox can develop shingles or herpes zoster. This is because the virus causing zoster and shingles is the same and it can remain dormant in some nerve cells of the human body. On reawakening of the virus a person may develop zoster. This rash can be seen following some nerves on any side of the body. E.g.: Around the trunk or neck, face, buttocks etc. This rash can be extremely painful and in some cases even after the rash goes away the individual continues experiencing pain on the rash site. A severe case of zoster on the face can even affect the eyes and the cornea in particular and this is called zoster keratitis.

Who is Susceptible to Shingles?

Statistics reveal that as many as 20 percent of individuals who have had chicken pox are also affected with shingles at some point of time in life. Typically when the immune system of an individual becomes weak then the dormant virus multiplies and travels along the nerve fibers to the surface. Since many people over the age of 50 suffer from this condition the fragility of the immune system is proved.

In healthy people, trauma and stress can cause shingles and it can also affect those who are "immunosuppressed". Individuals whose immune systems are affected through diseases such as AIDS or who are administered immune suppressant drugs are particularly prone to developing shingles. Likewise people having lymphoma, leukemia and other types of cancer can also develop this condition.

Signs and Symptoms of Shingles

In herpes zoster the initial attack starts off with fever, headache. The individual may experience discomfort along with chills on occasions and there may also be intense itching or a burning sensation at the rash site. The individual may also suffer from an upset stomach and experience weakness and fatigue.

The itching and pain becomes intensified as the rash appears. Sometimes shingles can occur without any rash and this is called zoster sine herpete. The pain that occurs in the absence of any rash is sometimes mistaken for a lung infection or a heart attack or even a spinal problem since it is rather severe.

The rash can be seen on one side of an individual's body and is in the form of red spots that are raised with swelling in the initial stages. Later blisters are formed in the place of the spots and they get filled with a clear fluid and this fluid then becomes cloudy. The blisters may bleed and eventually they become dry with formations of crusts. The most common site for the shingles infection and rash is the neck, back and trunk areas.

Treatment for Shingles Disease

For shingles the treatment involves measures to provide relief from the pain and also medication to treat the condition. Compresses and wet dressings are ordinarily used to give relief from the itching, burning and pain. Like wise certain antivirals are also prescribed to treat the attack. Often after the attack of shingles the pain associated with it can persist for months or even a year. Some medication is used to reduce the pain but there is no line of treatment to completely stop it.

Complications

A case of shingles needs to be diagnosed properly and treated immediately because untreated shingles can result in further complications such as the individual developing pneumonia and even malfunctioning of major organs. If the site of the rash and blisters is around the face or neck region then in some cases if medication is not given on time the person can end up loosing his eyesight and may also develop hearing problems. Since this condition is linked with the nerve cells and nervous system, in rare cases the individual may develop encephalitis (inflammation of brain)

Precautions

Shingles is not a completely contagious medical condition. A healthy person cannot contract this disease except in one stage. When the patient has blisters containing clear fluid without formation of crusts, shingles can be contracted by an individual coming in close contact with the patient. Again a low immunity is something that is responsible for the development of shingles. It's in the best interest of people to seek medical help and religiously follow the treatment plan. Also the person suffering from shingles should carefully cover the rash and blisters and avoid scratching the rash site.

   
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