Shingles is caused by the herpes varicella zoster virus, the same virus that caused chickenpox. The chickenpox virus never leaves the body, even after symptoms are completely gone. Instead, the virus stays dormant (inactive) within the nervous system. When the virus reactivates, it causes uncomfortable and embarrassing shingles. Symptoms first appear to be flu-like, except there’s no fever. Instead blisters and a small rash in the form of a strip or band will appear anywhere on the body but only on one side of the body, along with an itching, tingling pain. It typically develops from the middle of the back towards the chest however, it can also appear on the arms, legs, face and around one eye.
The rash usually lasts about two to four weeks after the pain of the rash first appears. It starts as red blotches, and quickly develops into itchy blisters, which may become yellow and dried out. In severe cases, patients can experience scarring that can be treated with certain laser and light therapies. The pain in the affected area tends to last even long after the rash disappears. Patients have reported anywhere from dull pain and tenderness to a burning sensation or even stabbing pains.
It’s important to understand that any person who has had chickenpox in the past is susceptible to developing shingles. It is much more common among people over 60 years old because they’re immune system becomes weaker in old age. People with HIV/AIDS, patients receiving steroids, radiation and chemotherapy can also develop shingles due to their lower immune system.
There is no cure for shingles, but there are treatments that could be effective in reducing the symptoms and easing the pain of the rash. Antiviral medicines are used to reduce the pain and duration of shingles, while pain medicines and topical creams are used to relieve long-term pain. It is important to see a trained dermatologist with a condition such as shingles in order to get on a fast track to recovery.