Shingles is a viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is also the reason for chickenpox. Shingles as a condition is not contagious, but the varicella-zoster virus is. If you have shingles, you can’t spread it to another person, but the chances of the virus to spread is high. It could later cause chickenpox.
The varicella-zoster virus will stay in the nerve tissue of that person for all their life. Mostly, the virus stays in an inactive state. When their immune system can’t keep the virus any longer, it could activate and show up even years later. This could result in shingles in the person.
Read on to know more about the condition of shingles and how to prevent spreading of the virus.
The initial stage of the condition shows symptoms like fever, chills and headache. However, the most prominent ones are pain and blisters.
Let us know about it in detail.
The visible symptoms of shingles are very similar to chickenpox. Both diseases show raised blisters that open, ooze out fluid and burst. However, there’s one difference between the two. While chicken pox rashes are seen of various parts of your body, shingles only affect a particular area of the body. Shingles blisters are mainly seen on the torso, wrapping around your waist on just one side of the body. The word, ‘shingles’ is a Laton word, meaning ‘belt’ in English. You might also see the rashes on a side of your face. In this case, visiting doctor becomes important.
Shingles follow a nerve path, which causes pain and weird sensations. The affected area of your skin will have tingling or burning sensation, even before the blisters show up. You will notice sensitivity and itching in the affected area of the skin.
Shingles pain depends on the severity of the condition and sometimes gets difficult to treat with medications available at the chemist stores. In serious cases of shingles, the doctor usually prescribes steroids or antidepressants. These kinds of drugs can cure the condition successfully in some people.
Spreading of shingles
If you are affected with shingles, you are also likely to spread the virus to a person who never had chickenpox in their lifetime. It is because when a person had chicken pox, their body contains antibodies that fight against the varicella-zoster virus.
Shingles leads to open, bursting blisters and the virus causing the condition can likely spread coming in contact with the unscabbed shingles blisters. If you have never had chickenpox, you can receive varicella-zoster virus from a person who has oozing blisters which could later result in chickenpox.
The virus doesn’t spread once the blisters develop crusty scabs. Once it starts scabbing, they do not remain contagious. Also, you can prevent the shingle-causing virus from spreading by covering the blisters.
A person cannot contract shingles by coming in direct contact with the nasal secretions or saliva of a person having shingles. There are a few exceptional cases though. So, in general, you cannot get shingles from a person who sneezes or cough near you.
People who are likely to get shingles
If you have had chickenpox, you can possibly have shingles in future. It is because after chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus resides in your body and activate after years or less. People of any age group can have shingles. However, it is most common in individuals over 60 years of age.
Shingles is common skin infection, which can affect almost half of the population of United States, by the time people turn 80 or more.
The virus more often reactivates in people who have a compromised immune system than people with a healthy immune system.
Important things to know about shingles
Most individuals who had an encounter with shingles experience discomfort and pain for a short time and recover completely within a few days or a week’s time. People usually have shingles only once in their lifetime.
The outbreak of shingles is a temporary thing. The marks of the rashes go away within a month, but it can have a lasting effect on your body and health.
The nerve pain caused by shingles can bother you for weeks or in some rare cases, even months. Usually, the pain of is more long-lasting and persistent in elderly people. To the contrary, younger adults do not have any signs of shingles once the infection is cured completely.
Taking medical prevention like shingles and chickenpox vaccine can limit the total number of people getting shingles and chickenpox in future.
Precautions to avoid spreading shingles
The chances of transmitting the varicella-zoster virus through shingles are quite less as compared to that with chickenpox. However, there are chances that you spread the virus when the symptoms start showing up until the blisters are crusted and dry.
If you are having shingles and still feeling healthy, you can carry out your daily activities normally. But, there are a few tips you should follow:
Wash your hands frequently: Wash your hands at regular intervals and avoid touching the blisters.
Keep the affected area clean and well-covered: Keeping the shingles clean and covered prevents it from getting into direct contact with other people in your surroundings.
Stay away from at-risk people: You must keep distance from people at higher risk of getting shingles, like infants with low-birth weights, premature babies and kids who have not yet had chickenpox or chickenpox vaccine. You should also stay away from people having a weakened immune system. They can be individuals who have undergone organ transplant, have HIV, having chemotherapy or people on immunosuppressant medications.
Avoid being anywhere around a pregnant woman: If you have a pregnant woman at home or office, keep a safe distance from them throughout the duration of shingles. The varicella-zoster virus is a serious risk factor for pregnant woman and the baby. Some of the common side-effects include birth defects and pneumonia. If you realize getting anywhere near to a pregnant woman, inform her about your condition. She can then talk to her gynecologist for medical recommendations. You must not come in contact with a pregnant woman who has never had chickenpox or the vaccine.
Risk factors for recurring shingles
People are not very sure what causes recurring shingles, but there are some specific factors that double your chances if getting the infection again.
People having a compromised immune system are at a higher risk to get shingles again. In a study, it was determined that the rate of recurring shingles among individuals with weakened immune system is around 12%. It is almost 2.4 times more than people who don’t have weak immune systems.
The reason behind your weak immune system can be:
- chemotherapy and radiation therapy
- Organ transplants
- AIDS or HIV
- High doses of corticosteroids such as prednisone
- A few additional risk factors are:
- Being a woman
- Long-lasting effects and increased pain during first case of shingles
- Over the age of 50
- Pain for more than a month during the first case of shingles
Having one or more blood relatives with shingles can increase the risk of getting shingles again.
Each stage of shingles infection
As soon as the virus reactivates in your body, you will start feeling a tingling sensation and discomfort under the skin. A particular area on one of your body feels irritated.
These effects can be seen on any part of your body, such s
- eye area
These locations are sensitive to touch, which makes them feel itchy, numb or hot (burning sensation).
Within a few days, there will be a rash seen in the irritated area. As the rash starts developing, you will see small groups of liquid-filled blisters in the area. They might soon start oozing.
It stays for a week or two and then starts drying up and break to develop scabs.
In case of some individuals, shingles also bring flu-like symptoms like
- light sensitivity
- malaise – general feeling of being unwell
Treatment of shingles
You must see a doctor as early as possible, after seeing the first signs of shingles – the formation of rash. The physician will most probably antiviral drugs to ease the condition and clear the virus from your body.
Some common antivirul options to cure shingles include:
- Valacyclovir (Valtrex)
- Famciclovir (Famvir)
- Acyclovir (Zovirax)
You might also get some over-the-counter medications to get quick relief from the pain and irritation.
For normal pain and irritation, you can take:
- Antihistamines, like diphenhydramine (Benadryl), to soothe itching
- Anti-inflammatory drugs, like Ibuprofen for swelling and rash.
- Numbing patches or cream like Idocaine or capsicim
In case the pain gets severe, the doctor will get on with the prescription plan. They will suggest you taking a treatment with local anesthetics.
In some cases, low-dose antidepressant is provided to help reduce the pain. Certain antidepressants have been proved to getting away from shingles pain over time. A few options are imipramine and amitriptyline.
Another option for treating shingles can be the anticonvulsant medications. These medications can reduce the nerve pain. The most common anticonvulsants prescribed for shingles are preggabalin and gebapentin.
When treated on-time with the right medications, shingles can recover completely without any serious side-effects. However, there are some complications you must try to avoid. The most common side-effect of shingles is PHN (Postherpetic neuropathy). PHN makes the shingles pain stay longer even after the blisters are clear. The condition is caused due to a nerve injury at the site of infection.
It can get difficult to treat PHN and the pain lasts for several months and even year (rare cases). Almost 13% of people more than 60 years of age experience this complication when affected by shingles.
You are at a risk of PHN when:
- Your turn 60 or older
- Have a compromised immune system
- Serious issue of shingles that affected a large area of your body
If you notice any of these symptoms, you are probably at risk. For instance, if you are an woman over 60 years of age with painful and severe shingles rash, you have more than 50% of chances of developing PHN.
PHN can make the body sensitive to touch and to variations in temperature. It’s also associated with depression, sleeplessness and anxiety.
Other similar complications are
- Bacterial infections on the skin at the rash site, mostly from Staphylococcus aureus
- Sight problems, if the rash is near the eyes
- Facial paralysis, hearing loss, ringing in your ears, loss of taste and vertigo (in case it affects the the cranial nerve)
- Hepatitis, pneumonia and other similar infections
Natural remedies for shingles
Although there’s no particular cure for shingles, the doctor may prescribe you with antiviral medication to reduce the duration of the virus and minimize the symptoms.
However, we have got you some natural remedies than can help you ease the pain and irritation at the site of rash.
You should cleanse the blisters daily to reduce any serious complications of spreading the skin infection. Take a cool soothing bath to ease the pain and irritation in the infected area.
Alternatively, you can also go for a healing bath to minimize the symptoms. Add 1-2 cups of colloidal oatmeal of cornstarch to lukewarm water and let it soak for around 15-20 minutes. Don’t use hot water because it can worsen the condition. Dry your body and remember washing the towel to prevent the virus from spreading.
Wet and cool compress
In addition to taking a healing bath, you can also use a cool compress to reduce the symptoms of shingles. Use a wet, cool compress at regular intervals of the day to get relief from itchiness and pain in the infected area. Simply dip a cloth in cold water, wring the water out and apply it to the blisters and rash.
The coolness of the compress helps reduce the pain. You can do this as often as it is required.
Note: do not apply an ice pack to the rash. The coldness may increase the skin sensitivity and make the condition critical.
Cornstarch or baking soda paste
Make a paste using baking soda or cornstarch and water to relieve itching caused in the area of shingles.
Put two parts of cornstarch or baking soda in a cup. Add a part of water for the required consistency. Make a paste and apply to the area of infection. Rinse off with water in 10-15 minutes. Repeat as many times as needed throughout the day.
The Bottom Line
Shingles are a skin infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus which causes chickenpox. However, shingles symptoms are quite different than that of chickenpox. It forms oozing blisters in a particular area of the body. In a few dyas or weeks, the blisters ooze out pus and crusts away.
It is important to keep the rash or blisters covered to prevent the virus from sprading. Seek help of a doctor if the symptoms are intense.