Shingles, also called herpes zoster, is a painful skin rash that is caused by the reactivation of the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. Also note that anyone who has recovered from chickenpox can develop shingles. Shingles occur when the dormant virus is reactivated in the nerve tissues. Early signs of shingles include tingling and localized pain. It is most common in people over the age of 50, but it can still reappear in people of all ages.
Early symptoms of shingles may include fever and general weakness. In some areas, someone with shingles may experience burning pain, after a few days, the first signs of a rash appear. The rashes start from a pinkish shade which may then progress into red blotchy patches on the skin. These patches cluster along nerve pathways. During this initial stage, shingles is not contagious.
The rashes quickly develop into fluid-filled blisters that are similar to chickenpox. These blisters appear over a localized area and do not spread over your whole body. They usually appear on the torso and face, but can still occur elsewhere. While shingles cannot be transmitted to someone, people who have never had chickenpox or chickenpox vaccine, can get chickenpox from someone with shingles through direct contact with active blisters.
Scabbing and Crusting
Blisters may erupt and ooze, and they may slightly turn yellow and flatten. They turn into scabs when they dry out, which take about one to two weeks to completely crust over. Once the blisters have dried out, the risk of spreading the virus also becomes lower.
Shingles appear around the ribcage or the waist, which may look like a belt. This can make tight clothing particularly uncomfortable.
These shingles affect the nerve that controls facial sensation and movement. The rashes appear around the eye and on the forehead and may be accompanied by headache. Other symptoms include redness of the eye, inflammation of the cornea or iris, and drooping eyelid.
There is no treatment for shingles. However, there are ways to ease the symptoms:
- Keep the rash dry and clean to reduce infection risk
- Wear loose-fitting clothing for comfort, or fabrics that are hypoallergenic like organic cotton
- Avoid rub-on antibiotic creams or adhesive dressings, as they can slow the healing process
- Antihistamines can sometimes help prevent itching
Be sure to consult a doctor to know which treatment suits you best.