What is Shingles?
How does shingles occur?
Have you ever had chicken pox, even when you were a kid? Did you know that the chicken pox virus, or varicella zoster virus, stays in your body forever? It is the same virus that is responsible for shingles.
Not everyone who had chicken pox will necessarily get shingles. But many people do. And it can occur at any time after the initial chicken pox has healed. So, you may have had chicken pox when you were 5 or 10 years old. And it may erupt as shingles when you are 50 or older.
If you are older, have a compromised immune system, are under a lot of stress, you may experience a flare-up of shingles from an old chicken pox infection.
Symptoms of shingles
Shingles has some classic symptoms. It typically affects only one side of the body. Symptoms may depend on where you have the shingles infection and everyone does not experience the same symptoms.
- Pain on one side of the body
- Red rash or patches
- Raised dots in patches, usually fluid filled
- Tingling under or around your skin
- Muscle weakness and fatigue
It can affect the waist, abdomen, back, or chest, or it may appear on the face.
Diagnosis of shingles
Often the shingles infection can be diagnosed by a doctor just by seeing the rash. Your other symptoms will also confirm the diagnosis.
If there is any confusion, then the doctor will take some fluid from the blisters and send the scraping to a lab for testing to confirm. In any case, the doctor will prescribe a treatment plan for your shingles.
Depending on the severity of your condition, you doctor may recommend a varied treatment plant. You may be put on:
- Antiviral medicines – these are oral medications that will reduce the healing time and decrease pain.
- Pain killers – various NSAIDs that are usually anti-inflammatory drugs affording pain relief.
- Anti histamines – these anti allergic pills will relieve itching.
- Topical agents – cream, patches, gels, or lotions that will numb the area and reduce pain.
- Capsaicin based creams or gels – these are applied if you have nerve pain.
While these are common treatment options if you have severe pain, your doctor may prescribe narcotic pain killers, anti-depressants, and even anti-convulsants if nerves are affected.
What about home remedies?
If you have a minor shingles infection, you can try home remedies such as:
- Taking cold showers or baths to reduce inflammation and itching
- Using ice packs or cold compresses to the infected areas
- Applying calamine or other over the counter lotions for relief
You should also eat nutritious food, reduce stress, and use natural remedies for building immunity.
Why is it important to treat shingles early?
You should not ignore the symptoms of shingles and treat it as soon as possible. Complications are a danger with untreated shingles.
Some possible complications include:
- Facial paralysis
- Eye damage (if the infection is close to the eyes)
- Spinal cord or brain infections or inflammation
- Bacterial skin infections (especially if you are scratching)
If you treat shingles early, you reduce the risk of complications and severity of attack.
With the right course of treatment you should feel better within 2-4 weeks.