Shingles is a painful condition caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that is responsible for causing chickenpox. Even if you have had chickenpox, the virus can live on in your nervous system for years, manifesting in the painful condition that causes pain, inflammation, and discomfort all over the body.
The disease manifests as a red skin rash that causes stinging and burning. Blisters often accompany the rash, further exacerbating discomfort and pain. While most cases of shingles clear up in two to three weeks, there are times when this ongoing condition can become chronic, requiring medical attention.
As the condition begins to develop, the initial stages of this disease include pain and burning. Pain and redness pop up in small patches, soon spreading all over the body. Other typical symptoms of the disease include:
- Muscle weakness
Other serious complications can develop that require immediate medical attention. Some of these more serious complications could include:
- Pain or rash involving the eyes
- Loss of hearing or intense pain in the ears
- Bacterial infections; open sores on the skin that may become infected
Depending on where the redness and rash are located on the body, it can cause painful discomfort that makes it difficult to sit, lie down, and even eat and drink. These areas of the skin are painful and tender to the touch, and it can seem as if your entire body is on high alert as your immune system battles the infection and attempts to bring balance to your system once more. While there is no cure for the condition, many therapies can be implemented to help you feel more comfortable and prevent infection as your body begins to heal.
Is the disease contagious?
While the condition itself isn’t contagious, the virus that causes both shingles and chickenpox can be spread to someone that has not had it, causing the spread of the disease. The virus can be easily spread from contact with oozing sores, so if you have blistered or broken skin, it is vital to keep it covered while healing occurs and minimize contact with others.
While there is no definitive cure for the condition, treating it as soon as possible–ideally within 72 hours of the onset of symptoms–can dramatically reduce both the length and the severity of the disease. Your doctor or medical practitioner should prescribe several therapies to make you more comfortable and reduce symptoms that can lead to the spread of infection and discomfort. Some of the most effective treatments include:
Antiviral medications can help to reduce pain and speed up recovery. These oral medications can be administered two to five times daily, or as prescribed by your doctor.
Anti-inflammatory agents can ease pain and swelling of lesions on the skin; these can be administered every 6 to 8 hours to help ease discomfort and reduce pain.
In severe cases, your doctor may prescribe the use of mild narcotics to ease pain and reduce inflammation while giving you the comfort and rest needed for optimal healing.
Pain isn’t the only discomfort experienced with this condition; at times, uncomfortable itching can impede the healing process. Administration of antihistamines helps block the histamine response that causes itching, allowing the skin additional time to heal. Antihistamines can be administered every 8 to 12 hours or as needed for comfort.
It may be beneficial to topically apply shingles cream to reduce itching and swelling, giving the skin a protective layer of moisture while you heal. Apply shingles cream as needed, and keep the skin clean and dry in between applications to reduce the possibility of infection. When treated correctly, the condition clears up within two to three weeks, although there may be ongoing complications or conditions requiring additional medical treatment.
Preventing the spread
Preventing this painful condition is possible with proper immunization. Studies have shown that vaccination has been almost 90 percent effective in reducing the spread of the varicella virus. If you are over the age of 50, consider getting a vaccine specific to this particular virus to reduce your contraction risk.
With some preventative measures and prompt treatment, it is possible to reduce the virus’s spread and reduce both symptoms and complications associated with it. Look forward to healthier, pain-free days as you develop a plan with your doctor for combatting the disease.