How Is Shingles Diagnosed
Your healthcare provider will do a complete physical exam and ask about your medical history, specifically about whether you have ever had chickenpox.
Your healthcare provider will likely know right away that it is shingles based on the unique rash. The rash usually appears one area on one side of the body or face. It appears as red spots, small fluid- or pus-filled vesicles, or scabs.
The healthcare provider may also take skin scrapings for testing.
Know The Bathing Dos And Donts
Using the right water temperature while bathing or showering can make a big difference in how your skin feels and heals. Ideally, you should bathe with cool or lukewarm water and avoid very hot water.
You can also apply a cool, wet compress to the rash and blisters. The AAD recommends you soak a clean washcloth in cold water and place the cloth on top of the affected area several times a day. Leave it on for 5 to 10 minutes.
You should avoid rubbing washcloths, sponges, or exfoliants on the area.
You can also add colloidal oatmeal or cornstarch to your baths to provide some much-needed itch relief. Just be sure to dry your skin gently after getting out of the bath. Then, follow up with a layer of calamine lotion to soothe your skin, or keep it dry and cover with a bandage if its still weeping.
Is Shingles Herpes Zoster Contagious
Shingles cannot be transmitted from someone who has shingles. Rather, it can only occur when a person who has already been infected with the herpes zoster virus experiences a change in their immune systems ability to fight off the virus. However, a person with an active shingles infection can transmit chickenpox to someone that has not had the virus. The virus can be transferred until the blisters crust over, which takes about a week.
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What Is Shingles And Who Can Get It
Shingles is another name for a condition called herpes zoster. It causes a painful rash. You can only get shingles if you had chickenpox in the past.
After you have chickenpox , the virus that causes it stays in your body, in certain nerve cells. Most of the time your immune system keeps the chickenpox virus in these cells. As you get older or if your immune system gets weak, the chickenpox virus may escape from the nerve cells and cause shingles.
Most people who get shingles are more than 50 years old or have a weak immune system. For example, you might get shingles if you have cancer, take medicines that weaken your immune system or have the virus that causes AIDS .
Questions To Ask Your Doctor
- Ive had chickenpox. Am I at risk of developing shingles?
- What is the best treatment for my shingles?
- The pain from shingles isnt going away. What can I do to make myself more comfortable?
- Im on treatment for shingles. When should I call my doctor if things dont get better?
- I have shingles and my children havent had the chickenpox vaccine. Should I get them vaccinated?
- Is the shingles vaccine right for me?
- Are there any risks associated with the shingles vaccine?
- Will my post-herpetic neuralgia ever go away?
- If Ive never had the chickenpox, should I still get the shingles vaccination?
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Consider Using Creams Lotions Or Patches
Shingles can be very painful. If you need help managing pain, your doctor might prescribe a topical pain-relieving cream or patch. These contain lidocaine or other nerve block medication for the skin.
A medicated anti-itch cream that includes an antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine , might also help you find some relief.
After the rash has scabbed over, you can try using creams or lotions to soothe any remaining symptoms. Look for products that contain:
- colloidal oatmeal
Your doctor may also recommend an oral over-the-counter pain reliever such as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug or acetaminophen . Always follow the dosage instructions on the label or take according to your doctors instructions.
Preventing The Spread Of Chickenpox
Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. You catch it by coming into contact with someone who is infected.
The Public Health Agency recommends if your child has chickenpox you should inform their school or nursery and keep them at home while they are infectious. This is until the last blister has crusted over.
This usually takes five or six days after the rash begins.
If you have chickenpox, stay off work and at home until you’re no longer infectious.
If either you or your child has chickenpox, it is also a good idea for you, or them, to avoid contact with:
- anyone who has a weak immune system, such as people who are having chemotherapy or taking steroid tablets
If someone in your household has chickenpox, you can help stop the virus spreading by wiping any objects or surfaces with a sterilising solution and making sure that any infected clothing or bedding is washed regularly.
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What Do Shingles Scabs Look Like
Shingles scabs develop when your blisters dry up. The blisters that form on the rash usually start to scab within 7 to 10 days. These scabs are usually dry and flat and can be red, brown, or yellowish in color.
Since shingles blisters affect just one side of the body, the scabs will only appear on one side as well. This is different from most other skin conditions, which typically affect both sides of the body.
Other common skin disorders might cause peeling or white patches . Shingles scabs usually dont have these characteristics.
The following images show what shingles scabs look like:
How Does It Occur
If you have had chickenpox, you are at risk for later developing shingles. After you recover from chickenpox, the chickenpox virus stays in your body. It moves to the roots of your nerve cells and becomes inactive . Later, if the virus becomes active again, shingles is the name given to the symptoms it causes.
What exactly causes the virus to become active is not known. A weakened immune system seems to allow reactivation of the virus. This may occur with normal aging, immune-suppressing medicines, or another illness, or after major surgery. It can also happen as a complication of cancer or AIDS or treatment of these illnesses. Chronic use of steroid drugs may trigger shingles. The virus may also become active again after the skin is injured or sunburned. Emotional stress seems to be a common trigger as well.
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Avoid Picking Or Scrubbing At The Scab
When scabs become itchy, some people scratch, scrub, or pick at them.
This can feel tempting, but it delays healing and increases the risk of scarring. It may also cause bleeding or redness.
To alleviate itchiness, try gently pressing on the scab with a clean, wet or dry cloth.
Gently holding a warm compress against the area can increase circulation to the wound. More blood flow brings fresh oxygen and cells that promote healing.
Also, a cold compress can reduce inflammation and pain at the site of the scab.
When To Contact Your Gp
Contact your GP if you’re not sure whether you or your child have chickenpox.
Contact your GP urgently if you have been in contact with someone who has chickenpox, or you have chickenpox symptoms and:
- you are pregnant
- you have a weakened immune system
- your baby is less than four weeks old
Chickenpox in these cases can cause serious complications, if left untreated. It is essential to seek medical advice so that you can receive any necessary treatment.
Contact your GP if you have chickenpox and are breastfeeding. They can advise about whether you should continue breastfeeding your baby.
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What Can I Do For The Pain
To help with the pain of shingles, your doctor might have you take an over-the-counter pain medicine. This could include acetaminophen or ibuprofen .
Applying a medicated anti-itch lotion to the blisters might reduce the pain and itching. Placing cool compresses soaked in water mixed with white vinegar on the blisters and sores might also help.
If shingles causes severe pain, your doctor might prescribe a stronger pain medicine.
How Long Does A Shingles Outbreak Last
Shingles typically lasts 4-5 weeks. It begins with the initial reactivation of the virus and onset of symptoms. It ends when crusts of the rash fall off and the pain and the itching stops, and blisters heal. Antiviral medicines, such as valacyclovir and famciclovir, help reduce both the duration and the severity of shingles.
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What Problems Can Happen
Most cases of shingles heal on their own, with or without treatment, and won’t lead to any other problems. In rare cases, shingles can lead to complications, including:
- Ongoing pain : Damaged nerve fibers in the skin send confused messages to the brain, leading to pain. Pain can go on for a long time after the shingles rash is gone. This is the most common shingles complication.
- Vision problems: Shingles near or in an eye can lead to vision loss.
- Skin infections: A shingles rash can become infected with bacteria, leading to impetigo or cellulitis.
- Nervous system problems: Shingles on the face can involve different nerves that connect to the brain. This can lead to nerve-related problems such as facial paralysis, hearing problems, and problems with balance. In very rare cases, shingles can lead to encephalitis .
How Long Will The Effects Last
The rash from shingles will heal in 1 to 3 weeks and the pain or irritation will usually go away in 3 to 5 weeks. When shingles occurs on the head or scalp, the symptoms usually go away eventually, but it may take many months.
If the virus damages a nerve, you may have pain, numbness, or tingling for months or even years after the rash is healed. This is called postherpetic neuralgia. This chronic condition is most likely to occur after a shingles outbreak in people over 50 years old. Taking antiviral medicine as soon as the shingles is diagnosed may help prevent this problem.
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What Is Shingles And What Are Its Causes
Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful rash. The rash can appear anywhere on the body, but is most often found on the torso.
Shingles is a reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. Following the chicken pox, the virus lies asleep or dormant in nerve tissue. It never truly goes away though. The virus may awaken as Shingles years later. This occurs especially in times of stress or illness.
What Causes Shingles
Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After youve had chickenpox, the virus goes dormant in your body. It stays inside certain nerve cells. Your immune system keeps the virus in these cells. As you get older, your immune system may get weaker. If this happens, the virus may reactivate, causing shingles. Many times this happens years after youve had chickenpox. If you have had the chickenpox vaccine, you are less likely to get chickenpox. Therefore, youre less likely to later develop shingles.
Most people who get shingles are over 50 years of age or have a weak immune system. For example, you might get shingles if you:
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What Not To Do
As your shingles blisters start to scab, be sure not to:
- Touch or scratch your scabs. This can break the scabs and cause scarring. You might also introduce harmful bacteria into your skin that can cause an infection.
- Use thick ointments. Thick ointments will keep the scabs moist, which may increase the risk of infection. Try to keep your scabs dry instead.
- Wrap your scabs. Avoid bandages or dressings, which can stick to your scabs. Its best to keep them uncovered and dry.
- Wear tight clothes. Tight, restrictive clothing will rub against the scabs and further irritate your skin.
Even as your blisters start to scab, you might still develop new ones for about a week. Thats why its essential to keep protecting your skin as it heals.
What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Shingles
Shingles can appear anywhere on your body, but it is most common on your torso. A line of painful blisters develops on the left or right side of your torso. The rash starts as red dots that become blisters filled with fluid. The blisters usually grow bigger, become filled with pus, and then crust over after a few days. You may also have any of the following:
- Severe tiredness and muscle weakness
- Pain when your skin is lightly touched
- Eye pain when exposed to light
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When You Should See Your Doctor
Go to your doctor as soon as you see the rash, as treatment is most effective if its started early.
Your doctor may prescribe antiviral medicine, which may help you recover faster and will reduce the chance that the pain will last for a long time.
Your doctor may also give you medicine for pain relief.
See your doctor again if:
- you get any blisters on your face
- your fever or pain gets worse
- your neck gets stiff, you cant hear properly or you feel less able to think clearly
- you develop new symptoms such as drooping or weakness to one side of your face
- the blisters show signs of infection or if you see milky yellow drainage from the blister sites.
What Is Postherpetic Neuralgia
Postherpetic neuralgia is the name used when the pain of shingles lasts for a long time after the rash is gone. About 1 in 5 people with shingles gets postherpetic neuralgia.
Like shingles, postherpetic neuralgia causes a stinging or burning pain. Your skin might become very sensitive to a light touch, such as from a bedsheet or moving air.
Most people with postherpetic neuralgia get better with time. Almost all of them are free of pain within 1 year. A few people have chronic pain .
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How Can You Care For Yourself At Home
- Be safe with medicines. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. Antiviral medicine helps you get better faster.
- Try not to scratch or pick at the blisters.
- Keep the blisters moist until they heal over. One way to do this is to cover them with a thin layer of petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline, and a nonstick bandage.
- Take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen , ibuprofen , or naproxen . Read and follow all instructions on the label.
- Avoid close contact with people until the blisters have healed. It is very important for you to avoid contact with anyone who has never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine. Young babies and anyone who is pregnant or has a hard time fighting infection are especially at risk.
How Can Shingles Be Treated
- Get The Vaccine: informative yet approachable guide available to you by linking to it at: https://www.healthcentral.com/condition/shingles.
- Antiviral drugs can shorten the attack. Acyclovir tablets/cream are examples. They are only effective in the first few days of symptoms. As such, it is important to see your doctor for an early diagnosis once symptoms appear.
- Pain-killers and rest can help mitigate the pain, as well as anti-inflammatories and a cool-compress.
- A bacterial infection may occur as a complication to the infection. It will likely require antibiotic intervention. Involve a specialist if there are any issues involving the eyes. He may need to prescribe eye drops.
- While antiviral drugs can help prevent an attack, they are also equally useful at preventing postherpetic neuralgia, and also shortening the duration of the attack.
- If you do experience postherpetic neuralgia, applying an over the counter anaesthetic ointment such as lidocaine. Follow this by a doctor prescribed topical analgesic cream which can help mitigate the pain. Antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and pain-killers can also be prescribed by your physician on a case by case basis.
- Live varicella-zoster vaccines are accessible for those at high risk for chickenpox. We do not recommend it for regular innoculation for children. While highly uncommon, those that have received the vaccine can transmit chickenpox to those in close contact with them.
Can Shingles Be Prevented
There are 2 vaccines available to reduce the likelihood of developing shingles, Zostavax and Shingrix. If you are over 50, you can talk to your doctor about whether you need it. It is recommended for everyone over 60 and is given free of charge in Australia to people aged 70 to 79.
Vaccination will not guarantee that you will not get shingles, but it will reduce your chance of developing the condition. The vaccine used to protect against shingles is not the same as the vaccine used to protect against chickenpox. Read more about the chickenpox vaccine here.
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Tingling Pain Or Numbness
During the first stage of shingles, before anything appears on your skin, a particular area of your body may begin to feel different. “When a shingles outbreak is starting, you may feel itching, burning, or pain,” Kim says. Often you will feel this on only one side of your body.
The initial signs of shingles may feel different for each person. In some cases, shingles can cause intense sensitivity, making it painful to even wear clothes over your skin, while in other cases, your skin may feel numb.
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