Everything You Need To Know About Shingles & How To Treat It
Do you have shingles? If you have ever had chickenpox and you’ve since developed a painful rash on your body, shingles could be to blame. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1 in 3 Americans will develop shingles in their lifetime — an estimated 1 million people are diagnosed with shingles each year in the U.S.
Ensure the health and longevity of your skin with the help of our skin care professionals. Gainesville Dermatology & Skin Surgery offers comprehensive therapies for a wide range of skin conditions treated, including shingles, or herpes zoster. Contact our office to schedule an appointment with a Gainesville dermatologist or to learn more about our treatments.
What Is Shingles?
Shingles (herpes zoster) is a viral infection that causes a painful, blistering rash to develop on the face or body. Shingles can occur anywhere on the body, but it most commonly appears as a single stripe of blisters that wraps around the right or left side of the torso or on one side of the face. Shingles can lead to serious health complications. The most common complication is postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) — a condition that causes intense, burning pain that can endure long after the shingles rash and blisters are healed. The older a person is when they develop shingles, the more likely they are to subsequently develop PHN.
The shingles vaccine is a safe and effective way to help you reduce the likelihood of developing shingles. Even if they have previously had shingles, it is recommended that healthy adults aged 50 or older receive a vaccination for shingles — called Shingrix — which is given in 2 doses, 2 to 6 months apart. If you believe you have shingles or you want to prevent shingles, contact us to schedule a dermatology appointment.
The signs and symptoms of shingles usually affect only a small section of one side of the body, face, or neck. Shingles pain is usually the first symptom of the condition. Depending on the pain’s location, shingles may be mistaken as a symptom from other conditions affecting the heart, kidneys, or lungs. The following comprises a number of the most common signs and symptoms of shingles.
- Burning, numbness or tingling
- Sensitivity to touch
- A red rash that develops after pain
- Fluid-filled blisters that break open and crust over
- Itching and skin discomfort
- Sensitivity to light
Is Shingles Contagious?
The herpes zoster infection is not contagious. It is not possible to contract shingles from another person who has it. However, there is a small risk that a person with a shingles rash will spread the virus to another person who never had chickenpox or was vaccinated for chickenpox, especially those with a weakened or suppressed immune system, pregnant women, and newborns. Those with shingles can prevent spreading the virus to others by covering their rash, avoiding touching or scratching the rash, washing their hands frequently, and avoiding contact with those at high risk of contracting the virus until the rash crusts. Primary risk factors for contracting shingles include the following.
- Adults over 50 years of age
- People with diseases, such as cancer or HIV
- Those with immune deficiencies
- Undergoing cancer treatments
- Prolonged use of steroids
- Taking drugs given after organ transplantation
What Causes Shingles?
The primary causes of shingles include exposure to the varicella-zoster virus — this is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Any person who previously had chickenpox may develop shingles. Once a person recovers from having chickenpox, the virus enters their nervous system and lies dormant for years. At some point, the virus may reactivate and travel to the skin through nerve pathways, producing shingles. But not everyone with chickenpox will develop shingles, but approximately one-third of the U.S. population is likely to develop the condition.
What Triggers A Shingles Outbreak?
The exact reason for a shingles outbreak is unclear, but it may be due to suppressed immunity to infections as people grow older. Shingles are far more common in older adults and those with weakened immune systems than younger individuals and those with healthy immune systems. Causation may also be attributed to primary risk factors for contracting shingles, such as taking certain medications, undergoing specific treatments, and those with immune-suppressing conditions. Additionally, research points to stress, a poor diet, and mood disorders as triggers for shingles, as all of these factors can negatively affect the immune system.
How Long Does Shingles Last?
Concerning shingles duration, most cases last 3 to 5 weeks and follow a consistent pattern of pain and healing — or stages of shingles. In those with healthy immune systems, the blisters tend to clear in 7 to 10 days, and the pain may stop in 1 or 2 months. The first sign is often burning sensations or tingling pain, but it may also include numbness or itching on one side of the body. A few days after the tingling or burning sensation develops on the skin, a rash appears. After that, the rash produces fluid-filled blisters. Approximately a week to 10 days after the blisters appear, they dry out and crust over. Following this, the scabs clear up within a few weeks of this completed cycle. Most people get shingles only once, but it is possible for a person to have shingles more than once during their lifetime.