What is Shingles?

Shingles explained by Denver, Golden, Aurora, Boulder, Broomfield, Jefferson, and Littleton Colorado’s top pain doctors

Shingles - NeckShingles, which is also referred to as herpes zoster, is a painful skin rash that is the result of the varicella-zoster virus. This is the same virus that causes chickenpox. If a person develops or encounters someone who has chickenpox, the virus stays in the body from that point on. The virus can become reactivated in the nerves when an individual is an adult and cause shingles. Shingles appears most often in adults with weak immune systems, and tends to develop as a result of an injury, medication, or stress. According to reports, one in four people in the U.S. typically suffer from shingles during adulthood.

Shingles generally do not reoccur and may only cause symptoms for a few weeks in most cases. Other people may experience sever symptoms that last for months. The initial symptoms that appear include fever, headaches, light sensitivity, and dizziness. Joint pain, itching, burning sensations, swollen glands, and tingling usually develop as the condition progresses. The rash that appears on the skin tends to be localized to one part of the body or exclusively on one side. It commonly appears on areas such as the face, stomach, mouth, chest, and the spine. Eventually the rash becomes clusters of fluid-filled blisters and scratching causes the blisters to burst, which may lead to possible scarring.

Causes of Shingles

Shingles - ChestShingles is more complex than childhood chicken pox because the varicella-zoster virus can remain dormant for extended periods in sensory cranial nerves, the spinal dorsal root, or sensory ganglia. These nerves send sensory information about the body to the brain such as pain perception and temperature. After the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, it travels within these sensory nerves to transfer the virus to the skin where the rash erupts. Patients often report experiencing moderate to severe pain that affects physical, mental, and social activities.

A person who encounters an individual that has shingles would not contract the condition, but if the person never developed chickenpox or received the vaccine, the risk of catching the varicella-zoster virus that causes shingles increases.

Individuals who have a weak immune system or those who are over the age of fifty are the most susceptible to developing shingles. This condition is generally diagnosed through a skin examination as well as reviewing the medical history of the patient. Due to the symptoms that shingles may cause, complications may develop such as decreased mobility, meningitis, ocular problems, and bacterial infections.

Treatments for Shingles

Currently, there is no cure for shingles, but various treatment methods successfully decrease the painful symptoms this condition causes. In certain cases, proper treatment can reduce the recovery period. Receiving treatment when shingles begins reduces the chances that complications will occur.

Certain recommended home remedies such as applying calamine lotion to the rash, taking an oatmeal bath, or using cool compresses help reduce itching. A physician may also prescribe antiviral drugs, steroid medication, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) until all symptoms have stopped.

Relaxation - Yoga to cope with ShinglesAdditional alternative forms of treatment such as using relaxation techniques or yoga have also helped people suffering from shingles experience pain relief. These treatment approaches help patients focus on aspects other than the pain that is being caused by the shingles.

People who are susceptible to getting shingles may get a vaccine. This may be especially useful for individuals who have weak immune systems or are over the age of fifty. Although the vaccine is not a cure for shingles, it reduces the risk of developing this condition.

Conclusion

Shingles, which is also called herpes zoster, develops on the skin as a painful skin rash after the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus. This virus is responsible for causing chickenpox. Adults who are fifty years of age or older, individuals who have weak immune systems, and people who encounter someone who has chickenpox are commonly affected by shingles.

Several treatments help decrease itching, pain, and the recovery period although there is no cure for shingles. In addition, alternative therapies such as relaxation techniques and yoga may be recommended as these techniques help individuals focus on aspects other than the painful symptoms.

At Pain Doctor our goal is to relieve your shingles pain and improve function to increase your quality of life.
Give us a call today at 480-563-6400.

References 

  1. Bouhassira D, Chassany O, Gaillat J et al. Patient perspective on herpes zoster and its complications: an observational prospective study in patients aged over 50 years in general practice. Pain. 2012;153(2), 342–349.
  2. Dworkin RH, Johnson RW, Breuer J, et al. Recommendations for the management of herpes zoster. Clin Infect Dis. 2007;44 Suppl 1:S1.
  3. Edmunds WJ, Brisson M, Rose JD: The epidemiology of herpes zoster and potential cost-effectiveness of vaccination in England and Wales. Vaccine. 2001;19:3076–3090.
  4. Gnann JW Jr, Whitley RJ. Clinical practice. Herpes zoster. N Engl J Med. 2002;347:340.
  5. Insinga RP, Itzler RF, Pellissier JM. Acute/subacute herpes zoster: healthcare resource utilisation and costs in a group of US health plans. Pharmacoeconomics. 2007; 25: 155–69.
  6. Oxman MN. Immunization to reduce the frequency and severity of herpes zoster and its complications. Neurology. 1995; 45:S41.
  7. Schmader K: Herpes Zoster in Older Adults. Clin Infect Dis. 2001;32:1481–1486.
  8. Wood M. Understanding pain in herpes zoster: an essential for optimizing treatment. J Infect Dis. 2002;186 Suppl 1:S78.