If you had chickenpox growing up, it is possible that one day you will develop Shingles, a virus that is related to the varicella virus. Nearly one out of three people will develop shingles in their lifetime. Amra Nasir, MD, medical director at Adventist HealthCare Urgent Care, explains the shingles virus and how it can be treated.
What is Shingles?
Dr. Nasir: Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful rash. It is developed from the varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. Anyone who has had chickenpox can develop shingles at any point in their life. After you heal from chickenpox, the virus stays in your body and can lie dormant in your nerves for years before reactivating.
Who Can get Shingles?
Dr. Nasir: Although it is most common in people over the age of 50, anyone can have shingles if they’ve had the chickenpox. In fact, shingles is on the rise in adults in their 30’s and 40’s. Fortunately, the younger you are when you have shingles, fewer complications may arise if you know what to look for and can get treated early.
What are the Symptoms of Shingles?
Dr. Nasir: Additional symptoms can vary for each person, but a painful rash is almost always associated with the virus. The rash can be located on the right or left side of your torso, or even on the face. The rash will consist of small blisters that are painful to the touch and may be itchy. Other symptoms might include fever, chills, fatigue, headache or an upset stomach. Some people may never develop a rash but will still experience the pain associated with shingles. The rash will begin to subside and scab over within seven to ten days.
Why is Shingles Painful?
Dr. Nasir: Shingles is painful since the virus affects the nerves. When the virus activates, it travels down your nerves creating a rash. The rash is located along your nerves, so even the slightest touch can cause pain. The pain will end after the rash goes away, however some people continue to experience pain afterward. This is called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN) and it will be felt in the area the rash was located. Not everyone will develop PHN, but the older you are, the chances of developing it increases significantly.
How is Shingles Treated?
Dr. Nasir: There is no cure for shingles, however prompt treatment with antiviral drugs prescribed by your doctor can speed up healing and reduce pain and the risk of complications. It’s important to see your primary care doctor or visit an urgent care center within a day or two of discovering the rash for prompt treatment. If you are in severe pain, the doctor may also prescribe something like lidocaine to numb the pain. If you are uncomfortable while recovering, there are some home remedies you can try to make your symptoms more manageable, including:
- Apply a cool washcloth to the blisters that can also aid in drying out the rash
- Use calamine lotion to help ease any itchiness
- Wear loose-fitting clothing
- Get plenty of rest and eat well
- Distract yourself from any pain or itchiness with activities that don’t put too much stress on blisters
Can I prevent Shingles by Getting the Vaccine?
Dr. Nasir: There is a vaccine to prevent the Shingles. The vaccine is given through two doses, two to six months apart. However, the vaccine isn’t recommended unless you’re over the age of 50.