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Shingles: A Painful Rash and Blisters

closeup photo of shingles (herpes zoster) on skin | Johns Creek Dermatology

Shingles: A Painful Rash and Blisters

Posted by Johns Creek Dermatology in Health 25 Apr 2017

Don’t take shingles to the party

Happy Birthday! Welcome to the 50s or 60s. A word to the wise–after the celebrating is over, make an appointment to check with Dr. Timani at Johns Creek Dermatology to see about getting a shingles vaccine. Formerly, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended the shot for those over 60; now it’s approved for those aged 50 and older. This underused vaccination can prevent a painful and possibly chronic virus from attacking your nervous system.

Shingles linked to a childhood disease

The cause of shingles (herpes-zoster) is clear. Anyone who has had chicken pox (VZV) can be a victim because the varicella-zoster virus, which remains latent after a bout of chicken pox, is the culprit. However, why the virus returns in the form of shingles remains a mystery.

Shingles Virus Victims

Most adults who have the varicella-zoster virus do not get shingles. Those who are over 50 and those who have weakened immune systems are often targets. However, the virus strikes other healthy individuals quite randomly; 25% of all adults will get shingles. As we age, the chance of developing shingles increases.

Because the chicken pox vaccine is recommended for all children between 18 months and adolescence, future generations are less likely to get shingles because vaccine is such a weak strain of the virus that it typically cannot survive over decades to cause shingles.

Nerve pain typically located on the torso

Shingles is more painful than chicken pox. When the virus reactivates later in life, it spreads down the long nerve fibers (axons) that extend from the sensory cell bodies to the skin. As it multiplies, the rash erupts. With shingles, the nervous system is more deeply involved than it was during the bout with chickenpox, and the symptoms are often much more complex and severe.

Shingles typically affect the torso. Initial symptoms include tingling, burning and/or itching. Watery blisters and a rash appear as the condition develops. The pain can be mild or intense. Many people report severe pain from the slightest human touch or contact with sheets, bed linens, and clothes. In the worst cases, the entire affected area looks like it’s been burned.

Shingles can involve any part of the body. Eruptions around the eyes and ears can be dangerous. In older patients the condition can evolve into a condition called postherpetic neuralgia. If this occurs, the pain from shingles can last for weeks or months after the rash has healed. For these and other reasons, you should make an appointment with Dr. Timani at Johns Creek Dermatology for treatment of this painful condition.

Treatment is available

There is no cure for shingles, but there are effective medications to treat the pain and shorten the length and severity of the attack. Taking prescription antiviral drugs such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, or famcyclovir as soon as possible can reduce or prevent severe pain and help blisters dry more quickly. Antiviral drugs can reduce by about 1/2 the risk of being left with postherpetic neuralgia. Other treatments include anti-inflammatory corticosteroids such as prednisone.

Studies show that stress can increase pain and even cause depression during a bout with shingles. Check with Dr. Timani for diet and relaxation strategies that can help alleviate the pain and suffering of a shingles attack.

Drastically limit your chance of developing shingles

How can you prevent shingles? Get the shot–a live vaccine given as a single injection, usually in the upper arm. The short-lived side effects of the vaccine include pain and swelling and injection site redness—a small price to pay to drastically reduce your chance of developing shingles.

Shingles Basics

  • You cannot develop shingles unless you have had chickenpox.
  • You can’t catch shingles from someone else.
  • A person with the shingles rash—which contains active virus particles—can pass the virus to someone who has never had the chickenpox vaccination; the unvaccinated individual may develop the chicken pox but not the shingles. Physical contact with the rash is the only way to transmit the virus in this scenario.
  • Although most people have shingles only once, a 2nd outbreak is possible.
  • You can prevent shingles; get the shot.

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