Shingles: Signs And Symptoms, Causes, Treatment & Vaccine 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.
Shingles 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 you develop chickenpox and recover from the illness, the virus remains dormant in your body. The viral microorganisms that remain in your body usually settle down near your skull or close to your spinal cord’s nerve roots. The viruses do not cause any particular symptoms while dormant in your body but will remain there for the rest of your life.
When the virus becomes active again, which can happen several years after you recovered from the chickenpox virus, you will then develop Shingles. This illness is considered a viral infection that can cause a number of unpleasant symptoms to develop. In most cases, the virus is reactivated when your immune system is compromised. This can be the result of highs tress levels, your age, or even when you suffer from a 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.
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 your body. In the majority of cases, the rash that develops will be in a stripe shape. Before this rash develops, you may find that you 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. You 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 your 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 are the complications of Shingles (Zona)?
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. You may experience this complication for a couple of weeks after your 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, you may develop hearing problems due to Shingles. If the ophthalmic nerve of the patient becomes affected by the virus that causes the condition, you 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 is Shingles (Zona) 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 you suspect you may be developing the condition, your physician can perform a physical examination to identify signs that you may have Shingles. In addition to a physical exam, the physician will also ask you about the symptoms you 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 if you have a compromised immune system, or when the rash and other symptoms are not considered normal with the Shingles infection. These tests will help determine if the blisters that you have developed on your body contains the virus that causes this infection.
After a physician has conducted a physical examination of the visual symptoms that a patient oped 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
Can Shingles Be Prevented?
Fortunately, vaccines have been developed to help reduce a person’s risk of developing Shingles and to avoid the Zona viruses that cause the infection to become (re)activated in the patient’s body. One of the most preferred options when it comes to the Shingles vaccine is the Shingrix vaccine.
Is there a vaccine to prevent Shingles (Zona)?
Yes, there are vaccines to reduce a person’s risk of developing Shingles. The vaccines offer protection against contracting the underlying virus, Zona, and developing Shingles. Any person who has had chickenpox in the past is considered to be at risk of developing Shingles, therefore, immunization is important.
One of the best Shingles vaccine is Shingrix. This vaccine is specially designed for adults 50 years of age and older. This vaccine is considered highly effective and helps the body build up immunity toward the virus, regardless of increasing age. In turn, this can also help the body more effectively fight off the virus should it become active again after years of lying dormant in the patient’s body.
Shingles is a condition that occurs when chickenpox reactivates in a patient’s body. While the 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.