Shingles: Signs And Symptoms, Causes, And Treatment Options

Shingles is a relatively common condition that affects approximately 33% of the American population at some point in their lifetime. One report claims that the prevalence of shingles has increased significantly over the past 60 years.

This condition is also known as herpes zoster. The condition primarily affects nerve tissue and leads to a rash on the skin, which can be uncomfortable and painful. Here, we will take a closer look at what causes this condition, who are at a higher risk, how to identify the signs of this condition and discuss how Shingles is treated.

What Causes Shingles?

Shingles is a viral disease that is caused by the reactivation of the virus that causes a common childhood illness known as chickenpox. The virus that causes this disease is known as the varicella-zoster virus. When a person develops chickenpox and recovers from the illness, the virus remains dormant in their body. The viral microorganisms that remain in their bodies usually settle down near the patient’s skull or close to their spinal cord’s nerve roots. The viruses do not cause any particular symptoms while dormant in the patient’s body but will remain there for the rest of the patient’s life.

When the virus becomes active in their body again, which can happen several years after they recovered from the chickenpox virus, then the patient develops Shingles. This illness is considered a viral infection that can cause a number of unpleasant symptoms to develop.

In most cases, the viruses reactivate and infect the body, which leads to Shingles, when the patient’s immune system is compromised. This can be the result of highs tress levels, their age, or even when they suffer from the common cold. The virus will move along a nerve that has been affected until it reaches the skin, where it will then multiply and causes what is often known as a shingles rash.

What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Shingles?

The common shingles rash is by far the most popular symptom that is associated with this infection. The rash tends to develop on a single side of the body and is usually limited to a specific area on the affected side of the patient’s body. In the majority of cases, the rash that develops will be in a stripe shape.

Before this rash develops, many patients find that they start to experience fatigue and tiredness. These are common symptoms associated with Shingles but does not provide evidence of the infection before the rash also develops.

Some patients may also experience a fever, which will be mild in most cases. The affected area of the skin where the virus that causes the infection starts to multiply and grow may also develop a “tingling” sensation – this sensation is often described as being present underneath the patient’s skin. The tingling sensations may develop before the rash develops.

It should be noted that it can take several days for the full shingles rash to become visible. At first, a faded red patch tends to develop. Relatively small bumps will then start to develop in the red patch, which will develop into blisters. The blisters are usually itchy and are accompanied by pain – the pain is generally moderate, but can be severe in some cases.

In approximately five days, the blisters will start to dry up, which causes a yellow crust to be left behind. This stage of the Shingles infection can take up to four weeks to clear up.

What Complications Can Shingles Cause?

While the Shingles viral infection tends to completely clear up in a few weeks in most patients who develop the condition, there are cases where more severe symptoms may be experienced, as well as the possibility of complications caused by the infection. The BC Centre for Disease Control reports that approximately 20% of patients who develop Shingles will experience severe levels of pain after their initial symptoms have cleared. This pain is referred to as post-herpetic neuralgia. Some patients may experience this complication for a couple of weeks after their shingles have cleared up, while others may experience the severe pain for six months or even longer.

There are some rarer complications that have been associated with this infection. In particular, some patients may develop hearing problems due to Shingles. If the ophthalmic nerve of the patient becomes affected by the virus that causes the condition, they may also develop visual problems.

More severe complications include encephalitis, which is a condition where inflammation develops in the brain. Cases of a bacterial superinfection affecting the rash that was caused by the viruses have also been noted among a small number of patients.

How Are Shingles Diagnosed?

Shingles usually do not require extensive blood tests to be conducted for the condition to be accurately diagnosed, due to the easy identification of symptoms caused by the infection. When a patient suspects they may be developing the condition, their physician can perform a physical examination on the patient to identify signs that they may have Shingles. In addition to a physical exam, the physician will also ask the patient about the symptoms they are experiencing. It is easier for a physician to diagnose the infection if the rash has even started to develop.

In some cases, however, additional tests may be ordered by a physician in order to cross out any other possible causes. This is usually only the case in patients who have a compromised immune system, or when the rash and other symptoms experienced by the patient is not considered normal with the Shingles infection. These tests will help determine if the blisters that have developed on the patient’s body contains the virus that causes this infection.

How Is Shingles Treated?

After a physician has conducted a physical examination of the visual symptoms that a patient has developed and is able to diagnose them with this infection, an appropriate treatment plan needs to be provided to the patient. The treatment options available for Shingles focuses on both the virus that has caused the infection, as well as the symptoms that the patient is experiencing. These medications will help reduce the healing time, as well as target the pain and itching that the patient may be complaining about.

Most patients are provided an initial treatment approach that includes antiviral medication. The most common antiviral medications used for the treatment of Shingles include:

  • Acyclovir, such as Zovirax
  • Valacyclovir, such as Valtrex
  • Famciclovir, such as Novartis or Famvir

These antiviral drugs will help to clear up the viruses that cause the infection faster and help to reduce the duration of the infection. It should be noted that oral antiviral medications are the preferred approach to the treatment of Shingles, as topical ointments have been proven to be ineffective in effectively treating the infection.

Apart from antiviral drugs, a variety of additional drugs have been presented as appropriate options for managing the symptoms that the patient may be experiencing. These drugs may include analgesics and opioids to help reduce the acute pain symptoms. Some physicians also rely on the use of corticosteroids to assist with addressing acute pain in patients diagnosed with Shingles, but this treatment is not always the most appropriate approach for certain patients. A physician will determine the benefits and possible risks associated with corticosteroids for a specific patient before considering these drugs as a treatment option.

Can Shingles Be Prevented?

Any person who has had chickenpox in the past are considered to be at risk of developing Shingles. There are, fortunately, vaccines that have been developed to help reduce a person’s risk of developing the condition and avoid the viruses that cause the infection to become reactivated in the patient’s body.

One of the most preferred options when it comes to the Shingles vaccine is the Zostavax vaccine. This vaccine contains live herpes zoster viruses that cause Shingles. This vaccine is especially recommended for individuals over the age of 50, who is considered to be at a much higher risk of developing the infection. This vaccine is considered highly effective and helps the body build up immunity toward the virus. In turn, this would help the body more effectively fight off the virus should it become active again after years of lying dormant in the patient’s body.

Conclusion

Singles is a condition that occurs when chickenpox reactivates in a patient’s body. While the condition is more common in older patients, children can also develop this condition. Some people are at a higher risk of developing the condition. Identifying the symptoms early on can help to avoid possible complications and also aid in a speedier recovery. Different treatments are available to target the condition, as well as the symptoms associated with Shingles. Additionally, preventative measures can be used to reduce the risk of developing the condition in patients who recovered from chickenpox.

In this post, we provided essential information regarding the symptoms of Shingles, the causes, how the infection can be treated and information about the vaccine that can be used to reduce the risk of developing this infection.