The shingles virus, also known as herpes zoster, is a painful skin rash that affects one in three people at least once in their lifetime. It is characterized by inflammation of the nerves and a painful, blistering rash. There are people who are more at risk than others, but shingles can affect anyone, especially those with a weakened immune system.
Here is everything you need to know regarding the cause, symptoms, treatment, and risk of the shingles virus.
- The Shingles Virus Is Caused by the Same Virus as the Chicken Pox
Chickenpox and shingles are caused by the same herpes virus, but not the same one that causes cold sores. After you get the chickenpox virus (the varicella zoster virus), it stays in your body for life. When, at any point it is reactivated, the virus then takes the form of shingles (the herpes zoster virus). In essence, the shingles virus is a form of the chickenpox virus.
Receiving the varicella, or chickenpox, vaccine does not necessarily decrease your risk of getting shingles, however. Studies have shown the vaccine may decrease risk of shingles in children, but does not decrease the risk in adults. Because they are of the same virus family, but ultimately different viruses, a chickenpox vaccine does not exclude you from the possibility of getting shingles.
While the chicken pox virus is highly contagious while it is active, the reactivated form of the virus, the shingles virus, is not as contagious. If you have not had the chickenpox or currently have a compromised immune system, you are more likely to contract the virus from someone else.
- Certain People Are at a Higher Risk Than Others
Some people believe that shingles only occurs in the elderly, but this is not true. About half of people who contract shingles are over 60, but the other half are not. That means that at any age you are at risk for getting the virus. People with weakened immune systems are most susceptible, which is why many elderly people contract it.
Those who have autoimmune diseases, cancer or HIV are more at risk because their immune systems are damaged. Also, those who are on medications for immunity problems, or undergoing treatment like chemotherapy, are more likely to contract the shingles virus, for the same reason. Talk to your doctor to find out your risk of contracting shingles.
- Symptoms Are Painful
Shingles can occur on the face, body and sometimes you can even get shingles on the scalp. The body location of shingles can vary but the general symptoms of shingles are similar regardless of location. Here are a few characteristics to watch out for.
Early signs of shingles include:
- Possible itching or numbness in certain areas
- Sensitivity to light
- Flu-like symptoms with no fever
Later symptoms include:
- Tingling or itching on one side of your body
- Stabbing pain on your skin
- Painful, red, blistering skin
- Blisters that may ooze, pop and scab over
- Immediate Treatment Is Important
The virus tends to run its course within 3-5 weeks, although some people report feeling pain for weeks or months after. If you do think you have shingles, seek medical attention as soon as possible, as studies have shown the medications will not shorten the length of the virus unless they are taken within 72 hours of the initial contraction.
While the virus is not contagious, it is very painful and uncomfortable. Your physician can prescribe something to bring you more comfort. There are also home remedies to help ease the pain:
- Taking Vitamin C
- Using Aloe Vera to ease burning
- Rubbing lemon balm on infected areas
There is also a shingles virus vaccine that is recommended by doctors for all people over the age of 50. It is effective in over fifty-one percent of adults over the age of 60. If you believe you are at risk, talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of the shingles vaccine.
- Shingles Can Have Serious Repercussions
Aside from the obvious, long-lasting pain, the shingles virus can have even longer-lasting effects on its victims, especially those with weaker immune systems. Possible complications from shingles can include:
- Bacterial skin infections
- Brain inflammation
- Bladder impairment
- Hearing loss
- Vision problems
If you believe you are at risk for shingles or could have shingles, consult your physician immediately. Anything you can do to help prevent it or ease your pain while having it, should be done. The shingles virus can cause serious complications if not watched and will cause you pain and possible life-long scarring. It is best to have a doctor keep an eye on your symptoms to make sure the shingles don’t cause other difficulties.
Being knowledgeable about the symptoms and risks of the shingles virus is the first step in precaution. Being fairly common, especially in the elderly, the virus can be handled with managed care by your physician. If you believe you are at risk or have the virus, seek medical attention as soon as possible to help ease any possible pain and reduce your risk of worsening complications.