Everything You Need to Know About Shingles and How to Get Rid of It
Shingles is a skin rash, also known as herpes zoster, which is caused by a virus called varicella zoster. It is known to be painful and itchy, and it normally appearswith blisters in one area in a band or a strip. Two to four days before the blisters or rashes become visible, you may experience some tingling or pain in the area where it will appear.
The rashes and blisters will normally heal and disappear within a month, while for some could only take several weeks. However, those who have a really weak immune system may have it and experience pain for more than a month or even years. This condition is known as post-herpetic neuralgia.
Shingles is a serious viral infection that must be treated properly, otherwise, it may lead to more serious problems such as loss of vision if the shingles primarily appears in the eye area. The virus commonly affects older adults, or those whose immune systems have weakened because of illness, stress, medication, injury, and many others.
While it is more common in adults, it can also affect children and rarely, healthy individuals. Most people who develop shingles will get it only once after getting better, but there is a possibility of acquiring it more than once in your lifetime.
What is the cause of shingles?
Shingles is caused by the virus called varicella zoster. It is the same virus that causes chickenpox. As we all know, chickenpox, in general, will only occur once in our lifetime. After getting chickenpox, the virus becomes dormant or inactive, but it stays in our nerves forever.
For most people, it stays inactive permanently, but there are those whose virus reactivates when their immune system is weakened by a disease, stress, age, and other reasons. There are also some medicines that may prompt the virus to be active again. When the virus reactivates, it causes shingles only, not chickenpox.
Symptoms of shingles
Shingles cannot be caught by sitting beside someone who has it. However, it can become contagious for people who are susceptible to the virus.
Those people are those who have not had chickenpox before and did not get the vaccine for it. If they catch the virus, the person is expected to develop chickenpox, which could develop to shingles after many years of the virus being inactive.
The symptoms of shingles occur in stages. Initially, the person infected with the shingles virus may experience headache and sensitivity to light. The infected individual may also start to experience flu-like symptoms minus the fever.
At the later part of the infection, the person may experience itching, burning or tingling sensation and pain in a specific area of the body. It normally originates on the area where the rash and blisters will occur.
Rashes and blisters will start to become visible a few days later. Rashes turn into blisters filled with fluid. The blisters break out and will take between 2 and 4 weeks to healcompletely.
The blisters may leave your skin with scars after healing. Note that while most people who get shingles develop a rash and blisters, there are some who do not get these signs at all.
- Shingles can also make the infected person feeling weak and dizzy
- A person with shingles may also experience pain all over the body that could last for several days
- Severe cases of shingles may cause the infected person to have blurred vision; it may also cause confusion
If you have any of the symptoms mentioned above, visit your doctor immediately to get help and medication. Shingles can be dangerous if not treated properly and immediately, so do not put your life at risk.
How to treat and get rid of shingles
As mentioned in the previous section, individuals who are infected with the shingles virus and are experiencing the symptoms mentioned, should visit their doctor immediately for proper treatment. Proper treatment is necessary to stop the spread of the virus and to alleviate the discomfort and pain.
Taking medication and getting proper treatment from a doctor must be done on a regular basis until the shingles virus is cured and the condition has improved. In most cases, depending on the immune system of the individual and seriousness of the infection, shingles normally goes away after 2 to 4 weeks.
Visit a doctor as soon as you have been exposed and experience the symptoms of shingles
Early medication and treatment is very critical to stop the spread of the virus and the complications that it brings. Self-care can be performed in order to alleviate the pain and signs caused by the virus.
Knowing these simple self-care tips can help you reduce your pain and discomfort when your doctor is away. Some of these self-care tips are:
- Keep the rash on your skin as clean as possible. Be aware that germs, bacteria, dirt, and the like can worsen your rash.
- Keep the rash dry as well.
- Wear loose or comfortable clothing. This will prevent the cloth from touching your rash or blisters and will make you feel more comfortable.
- Avoid using topical antibiotics or cream. Do not cover the rash with plasters as well since this can delay the healing process.
- If you need to cover the rash or blisters, do not use cream or solutions that will stick to the rash and the plaster. This will be painful when you need to remove the plaster.
- Calamine lotion provides a cooling and soothing effect on the skin. This lotion can also help reduce your itchiness.
- Try to use cold compresses or apply cold water on your blisters. This also provides a cooling and soothing effect. It will also keep the blisters clean. Make sure to use clean water to avoid further infection. In using cold compresses, do not use it more than 20 minutes per day.
- Do not share clothes, towels and other personal belongings with others if you are infected with the shingles virus.
- If needed, the person infected with shingles should avoid going out while the virus is contagious. This may include not going to work or school while the rash and blisters have just come out and are just starting to spread.
- Rashes and blisters on areas covered by your clothes have little risk of being passed from another person.
Antiviral medications are necessary in the treatment of shingles viral infection. These medicines should be prescribed by a licensed doctor. Normally, the antiviral medicines should be taken for 7 days but could take longer depending on the prescription of your doctor.
Doctors will normally prescribed antiviral meds such as valaciclovir, aciclovir, and famciclovir. These medicines cannot kill the virus itself, but will stop it from spreading or developing further.
Antiviral medicines are expected to work best or be most effective when they are taken inside the 72-hour period from the time the rash has appeared on your skin. The antiviral medicines can help:
- Lower the severity of your infection and help improve your condition
- Reduce the duration of your shingles infection (promotes faster healing)
- Prevent you from developing shingles complications such as post-herpetic neuralgia; the evidence of this complication though is still uncertain
Aside from antiviral medicines, a few natural treatments can be an effective option to ease the pain caused by shingles. These natural treatments can be used together with the antiviral medicines.
- Take a cold shower or bath—This is known to provide a soothing effect on your rash. Just be careful not to rub or scratch the rash and blisters while taking a bath. The water must not be too cold as well since exposure to extreme temperatures will trigger your skin or rash, causing more pain.
- To prevent the spread of the shingles virus to your family members, make sure to not share towels with them. Your clothes and laundry must be isolated from the rest as well. Yours should be soaked in a hot water to kill the virus. Keep in mind that open lesions or blisters, or your scratched rash can spread the virus from one person to another.
- Do not use lotions or creams that are scented as they are known to have a high chemical content.
- Natural bath solutions are available at drugstores and can be bought over the counter. These natural bath solutions include starch and oatmeal bath. These solutions can help treat painful and irritated skin. These products should be mixed with a lukewarm water. Hot water is not advisable as it will only worsen the rash and irritation. Follow the instructions that came with the bath solution that you bought.
- Always wash your hands and keep them clean, especially when touching your blisters or rash. This will prevent further infecting your rash. Make it a habit to wash your hands with soap and water when you have touched your rash or blisters. Do not come in contact with anything or anyone without washing your hands first.
- Persons infected with shingles may also use natural pain relief if needed. Capsaicin is one example of a natural pain reliever, which is an extract from pepper. These natural pain meds have been on the market for centuries.
Side effects of taking antiviral medicines
While it is uncommon, taking antiviral medicines can have some side effects on the person who is taking them. Below are some of them for reference.
- Flu-like symptoms or feeling sick
- Throwing up
- Abdominal pain
Who may be given antiviral drugs to treat shingles virus?
Antiviral medicines are important to stop the spread of the virus and to cure shingles. This may be most required for individuals who are infected with shingles virus and are 50 years old and above. Below are the other cases when an antiviral medication may be required.
- If the shingles virus has affected the eyes
- If a person has a weak immune system, antiviral medications can help fight the virus
- Body pain ranging from moderate to high
- Rashes and blisters
Complications of shingles
Shingles virus can cause other complications if not treated properly and on time. Below are some of the complications for everyone’s reference.
- Post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN)—This is the most frequent complication of shingles infection, and happens after shingles has been treated, but the nerve pain This condition is not common with patients under 50 years old. For those over 60, 1 in every 5 people with shingles experiencesPHN. The condition normally will last for more than 1 month. Based on records, the chances of occurring are higher for older people—the older you are, the higher the risk is to get this complication.
- Skin infection—A skin rash is one of the visible symptoms of shingles. However, this rash can lead to a severe skin infection when it is exposed to bacteria. The skin turns red and inflamed. If this worsens, a skin expert may need to be consulted for proper treatment. Antibiotics may also be prescribed to fight the infection.
- Eye problems—Shingles may affect the eyes and when this happens, the front of the eye may swell. Severe cases may lead to the inflammation of the entire eye, which may lead to loss of eyesight. This is obviously a very serious complication, hence must be treated immediately and properly.
- Weakness—Shingles can also affect the motor skills of an infected individual. This occurs when the virus attacks the motor nerves, or the nerves that control the muscles. The patients may experience extreme weakness and could possibly lead to paralysis.
- Other complications—Shingles may also cause other complications involving the brain. This condition is very serious but also very rare. Individuals who have really poor immune systems and catchthis virus are also at a high risk of developing severe and highly difficult shingles complications.
How else can shingles be transmitted?
The varicella-zoster virus, or VZV, that causes chickenpox and shingles, is extremely contagious, especially forpersons who have not previouslyhad chickenpox or have not been given the chickenpox vaccination.
The virus is released from the lesions or blisters, or open rash caused by shingles. While the shingles virusis not known to be transmitted through sexual intercourse or any sexual contact, virus could still be transferred during the sexual act due to open lesions, blisters and rashes. These could be touched during the activity.
If the individual who touched the open lesion is vulnerable to the virus, as he has not had chickenpox before or has not received the vaccine, then that person will catch the virus and developchickenpox. The virus can then develop into shinglesin the future.
Because of the situation explained above, it should be mentioned that the shingles virus can be transferred through touch. But the lesions, rash, or blisters must be open or should be releasing the virus before the transmission can happen.
It is also said by some people that the that the varicella zoster virus can be transferred through saliva. This claim came out because there are some reports that say the virus (varicella zoster virus) can be seen in the saliva and also in nasal secretions in a person with chickenpox or shingles. However, not enough data can back the claim that the virus can be spread through saliva.
Signs of shingles and when the virus is most infectious
When a person is infected by the virus that also causes chickenpox, the person will notice a visible rash or blisters after a few days of getting the virus. The rash and blisters are expected to come out after you experience the following signs:
- Tingling feeling or itchy sensation
- Burning feeling
- Numbness or lack of feeling on one side of the body
When the rash and blisters begin to occur, the infected individual will start to release the virus from the open lesions or rash. This stage is when the viral infection is most contagious.
2 stages of shingles
- Prodromal stage—This stage is when the symptoms of shingles are felt, but minus the visible blisters and rashes
- Active stage—This stage in the viral infection is when you will see the rashes and blisters coming out and becoming more evident.
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