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Shingles - Symptom, Treatment And Causes

Last Updated: Nov 09, 2019

What is Shingles?

The same virus that cause chickenpox also cause shingles. This is so, because after recovery from chickenpox the virus remains dormant in the patient’s CNS (Central Nervous System).Shingles is caused by Varicella zoster virus, which belongs to group of viruses known as herpes viruses, which is the exact reason as to why shingles is also known as herpes zoster.All herpes viruses can remain hidden in the nervous system of our body and can hide there for an indefinite span of time.

When this virus finds the right conditions, the herpes zoster virus can reactivate themselves. It’s more like waking up from a hibernation mode. After awaking the virus travels down the nerve fibers, which causes new infections.The infection appears as blisters in the skin or skin rashes accompanied by shingles which appear in more than one distinct bands, known as dermatomes. It can appear even on the face in a band or in some situations break out on a quarter of the face.

What are the very first signs of shingles?

Shingles is a painful infection of the skin and underlying nerves normally caused by a virus, varicella-zoster, and also known as Herpes Zoster. The sensations of pain along with numbness, itching, tingling, and burning are considered as the first signs of shingles. Once a person gets infected with this virus, skin rashes can be observed over the skin of faces, eyes, mouths, and ears within one to five days of time period of pain.

Skin rashes may get converted into fluid-filled blisters and look like chickenpox. People may experience symptoms like fever, chills, feeling of tiredness, pain in muscles, headaches which are the same as a flu infection. If this disease occurs near the eyes then it can show symptoms like pain, redness, swelling, and sensitivity to light because of damage to the optic nerve.

What causes shingles to activate?

All these dermatomes correspond to one singular nerve, which is why this infection causes isolated skin lesions, rather than rashes appearing all over the body.

Per say, you can never have shingles if you have never been exposed to chicken pox or rather to say more clinically the varicella virus that causes this disease. As said even before, this virus can remain dormant for years and while remaining inactive it will never cause any problem to the host. However, in certain persons who have low immunity, it may reactivate several times in a short span of time.

This disease is most common in people who are aged over 50. More than half of the cases registered for this illness have been found aged near or more than 60. Nevertheless, this disease can happen to all people of all ages but only to them, who had been exposed to chicken pox.

How to diagnose shingles without rash?

Shingles is viral infections that may be occurring after being dominant at central nervous system and it is difficult to diagnose it without rash but still, some symptoms can represent its occurrence. When a person is suffering from shingles, he or she may experience symptoms to one side of the body like face, neck, and eyes as well as in the internal organs.

These symptoms can be a feeling of tingling or numbness, itchiness, sensitivity to touch, headache, burning sensations, pain that comes from the spine like dermatomal pain and often laboratory investigations. The laboratory investigation may include immune-fluorescent microscopy of vesicle cells, serological testing, and real-time polymerase chain reaction.

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What are the risks of getting shingles?

It is still unknown by stalwarts of the medical science, as to why varicella zoster virus starts to multiply. Nevertheless, in spite of this virus’s unpredictable nature, the possible causes of varicella zoster reappearance on the host can be for ageing, diseases like HIV and AIDS, cancer treatments like radiation and chemotherapy, psychological and emotional stress, trauma and medications such as immunosuppressant drugs.

It has also been seen that children whose mothers had chicken pox in their late pregnancy or in her infancy does at times transmit this virus to the offspring congenitally. Most people do not experience any life-threatening complications with shingles.

What is the best treatment for shingles?

The condition of shingles can be suppressed by the use of medications that can control infection, inflammation, pain and improve the healing process. Medical professionals are generally prescribing antiviral drugs like Acyclovir, Famciclovir, and Valacyclovir within the third day of the first occurrence of symptoms.

Other medications such as painkillers (Acetaminophen, Ibuprofen, Naproxen), antihistaminic, numbing medicine (lidocaine) and tricyclic antidepressant agents (amitriptyline, desipramine, nortriptyline) are also given to patients suffering from shingles.

To avoid itchy skin reaction, doctors are prescribing calamine lotion to soothe these skin conditions. For severe pain during this condition, capsaicin topical patch, codeine like narcotics, gabapentin like anticonvulsants, injections of corticosteroids and local anesthetics are also advised to people.

What food should you eat when you have shingles?

The changes in diet are recommended in shingles to strengthened immunity and prevent the further spread of infection in other parts of the body. Foods containing vitamin A, vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoids, and amino acid- lysine are included in shingles condition.

Foods like orange and yellow fruits, leafy green vegetables, red meat, eggs, chicken, whole grains, legumes, beans, tomatoes, spinach, orange color foods (carrot, pumpkin, and apricot), red color foods (watermelon, red pepper, grapefruit and cherry), and green color foods (kale, parsley, melon, lettuce and endive) are supplying essential nutrients to immune system of body and recommended during infections.

There is a restriction on foods with saturated fat, excess sugar, and salt, refined carbohydrates, etc. during infection of shingles as they can disturb the healing process of the body.

What is the best home remedy for shingles?

Shingles is occurring due to same virus that is causing chickenpox and it produces blisters filled with fluid. These blisters are causing itchiness over the skin and pain that can be relieved by taking a cool bath as well as it can reduce the risk of spreading the infection. The application of cool and moist water through soaking clothing in cold water can ease in pain and itchiness.

Some soothing lotions and cream along with baking soda and cornstarch paste can be applied to shingles rashes to decrease itchiness and scarring and prolongation of blisters. To overcome skin irritation and improve skin healing processes, the application of essential oils such as Chamomile oil, Eucalyptus oil, and Tea Tree oil is also suggested in shingles.

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Written ByDr. Arun Sharma MBBS,MS - General Surgery,MCh - Neuro SurgeryNeurology
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