Shingles, also known medically as herpes zoster, is a painful viral infection that manifests as a rash. It is precipitated by the varicella-zoster virus, the culprit behind chickenpox. Once a person has had chickenpox, the virus can linger in a dormant state within the body, only to reactivate years later, resulting in shingles.
The symptoms of shingles typically concentrate on one side of the body, primarily presenting in a specific area. Early signs may include localized pain, burning, numbness, or a tingling sensation. Accompanying symptoms may include a headache, light sensitivity, and in some cases, fever or gastrointestinal distress. Within a few days of these preliminary symptoms, a red rash often emerges in the affected area. This rash then evolves into clusters of blisters, filled with fluid, and eventually crust over.
The rash associated with shingles typically persists for two to four weeks. Discomfort, pain, or itching in the area may continue until the rash completely heals. Some individuals may experience other symptoms such as fatigue, fever, light sensitivity, headaches, or secondary bacterial skin infections.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 3 people in the United States will develop shingles in their lifetime. Anyone who has recovered from chickenpox may develop shingles; however, the risk significantly increases in individuals over the age of 50, or those with weakened immune systems due to stress, injury, certain medications, or other factors.
Seeking immediate medical attention is advisable, especially if the rash is near the eyes or covers a large area. Early treatment enhances the chances of preventing complications. Antiviral medications are commonly prescribed by doctors to diminish the severity and shorten the duration of shingles. They are most effective when administered as soon as possible after the rash appears. Furthermore, pain relievers, numbing agents, and anti-inflammatory drugs can be used to manage symptoms.
With shingles, self-care is crucial as well. This includes maintaining skin hygiene, avoiding scratching, and applying cool, moist compresses to soothe blisters. Wearing loose clothing can minimize discomfort, and rest is vital to recovery.
Though most people will only get shingles once, it is possible to get it more than once. The CDC recommends the shingles vaccine for people aged 50 years and older to reduce the risk of shingles and its complications.