Diseases & Conditions


ShinglesCausesMedicationsPreventionRisk FactorsSymptomsTreatmentTypes

What is Shingles?

Shingles refer to skin rashes caused by a virus called the Varicella Zoster virus or VZV. This virus belongs to the herpes family of viruses and is also responsible for chicken pox.

Causes of Shingles

It is a known fact that it is the herpes zoster virus that causes shingles. It is also well known that this virus is also responsible for chicken pox in the human body. But what is not known is why the virus gets reactivated to cause herpes zoster. The virus lies dormant in the nervous system and is actually never out of the body fully. According to experts during times of emotional stress, any immune deficiency or cancer, the virus gets reactivated and causes shingles. However, in most cases of shingles the actual cause for the virus reactivation has never been found till date.

Medications for Shingles

When herpes zoster is diagnosed after 72 hours, doctors may treat the symptoms with pain relievers like Tylenol or acetaminophen or prescribe Advil or ibuprofen. Anti viral medications like Zovirax or acyclovir or Valtrex or valacyclovir and Famovir or famciclovir may also be prescribed as they help in decreasing the duration of skin rash and pain.

Prevention of Shingles

Shingles is quite difficult to prevent in people who have contracted chicken pox earlier. However, in people have never been affected by this virus before, shingles will not develop. Currently, there are two methods that will help in reducing the incidence of shingles. These include the VZV vaccine and also Zostavax vaccine in adults above the age of sixty.

Risk Factors of Shingles

Shingles can be a contagious disease and can spread from one person to another. This is more predominant in children and adults who have never been affected by chicken pox. However, instead of getting affected by shingles, these people get affected by chicken pox. There are a few instances when herpes zoster can affect the face, particularly the forehead and the nose areas. In such situations, it is quite possible that it can affect the eye and in very rare cases lead to loss of vision. So, if you have shingles on your forehead or nose, get it evaluated by your health care professional immediately.

Symptoms of Shingles

One of the earliest symptoms of shingles is that a patient will experience burning pain and sensitive skin for more than a week or so before a rash is even visible. This makes it very difficult to identify the cause of pain since there is no rash on the skin. The rashes caused by shingles start as small blisters with a red base, with new blisters getting added during the next three to five days. The blisters appear in a band like pattern on a specific area of the skin. In fact the blisters follow the individual nerves that come out of the spinal cord in a dermatomal pattern or a ray like distribution pattern. The entire path of the affected nerve may be involved or they may be certain areas affected by blisters and some not affected at all. Normally, only one nerve level is involved and in rare cases more than one nerve may be involved before the blisters in the affected area starts to pop and ooze out. It takes some time for the affected areas to crust over and heal. Normally, the duration of this problem from the beginning to the end is between three to four weeks.

Treatment for Shingles

There are several effective treatments available for shingles. There are various drugs that can fight the viruses and help reduce the severity and also the duration of the rash provided you have started early on medications. Those who have symptoms of shingles on nose or eye should contact their doctor immediately because anti viral medications are effective if only they are started earlier. There are certain things that you need to do to take care of shingles.

  • Avoid scratching the skin where the rash is located since it increases the risk of anti bacterial infection and scarring.
  • After the diagnosis and the necessary treatment, apply cool tap water compresses for 20 minutes, several times a day so that it soothes and helps in drying the skin.
  • Keep the affected area clean by using mild soap and water. Also wear loose clothing so that you can avoid the cloth from rubbing against the rash since it can cause a lot of pain.
  • Avoid skin to skin contact with those who have not suffered from chicken pox or those who are ill and those who have a weak immune system.

Types of shingles

Shingles is not further classified into various types.