Singles refer to a viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that also causes chickenpox. If you are suffering from small blisters that are overly painful, the chances are high that you may be having shingles. They are also referred to as herpes zoster, which is a painful blistering condition.
Even though it is never a life-threatening health condition, shingles can cause lots of pain. Clinical research shows that vaccines can help minimize your risk of developing shingles whereas early treatment can help shorten a shingles infection, reducing the chance of suffering a complication.
After an initial chickenpox infection, the varicella-zoster virus usually stays quiescent in some areas of your nerves that are associated with your spinal cord, neck region, or the nerve of the head. The virus can become active again and will eventually multiply in numbers and spread along the nerve fibers that supply the surrounding skin are. And when this happens, you will most commonly experience a very painful blistering rash in the affected skin area.
It is important to note that shingles only affect an individual who has earlier suffered a chickenpox infection. According to studies, at least 20% of those who have had chickenpox before usually develop shingles at some point during their lifetime.
Simply put, shingles is not a contagious infection. As earlier explained, it is caused by the herpes zoster virus that usually remains inactive in a person’s nerve for a period, eventually resurfacing when your immune system is relatively lower. However, it is imperative to note that an individual with shingles can potentially cause and transmit chickenpox to a person who has never been infected by the virus. Also, the period of infectivity usually starts at the onset of the formation of shingles up to the time the blisters have dried and crust out. This period usually lasts for approximately one week.
Pain is usually the first telltale sign of shingles infection. But, it is important to mention that not everybody with shingles will always experience pain. Some may just experience itching or minor burning sensation over the affected region.
A few days after you have experienced the abnormal itch or pain, you may also experience a group of red spots that quickly translate into blisters. You may also suffer some headache or fever. With time, your blisters may either burst or may be filled with either pus or blood. These blisters will eventually dry out, creating dry crusts or scabs. The scabs will fall off within two or three weeks.
The rash usually affects a well-demarcated area of your skin and without affecting the midline of the body. The location, as well as the shape of the rash, is dependent on the nerve root distribution. Though on very rare occasions, shingles can affect your face by running along the nerve root over your eyes and face, leading to eye complications such as glaucoma, scarring, and blindness.
And for those with highly compromised immune systems, shingles can manifest in a widespread generalized rash that may be strikingly similar to a chickenpox rash.
If you think you may be suffering from shingles, you should seek immediate intervention. Concerns and shingles are usually diagnosed depending on:
In general, you will have to seek professional help urgently if you have any of the below symptoms:
Besides reviewing your medical history and physically examining your rash, your doctor may also conduct a clinical diagnosis based on your history as well as the physical appearance of the rash. However, in early cases, or if there is some doubt regarding the diagnosis, your doctor may opt to offer a blister fluid swab test, or scrapping test to ascertain your diagnosis.
Also referred to as post-herpetic neuralgia, residual pain is a complication involving shingles infection. When this occurs, the affected patient will continue to experience pain over the affected skin and nerve fibers even the shingle episode is long gone.
Common shingles complications include post-herpetic neuralgia, brain inflammation, blindness, skin bacterial infection, hearing loss, facial muscle paralysis among others.
According to the CDC, those who are 60 years old or older should strongly consider getting the vaccine since it is the only proven way to help the development of post-herpetic neuralgia.
Shingles may not seem to be a dangerous health condition. However, if left untreated, it can lead to numerous complications that may likely put your health at risk. It is very important to prevent its occurrence before it finally develops.