Shingles is a viral infection which is also known as herpes zoster. It causes a painful rash and it often appears as a band of blisters that wraps from the middle of the back around one side of the chest to the breastbone. It is also possible that other parts of the body can be involved as well, including your neck, face or scalp. In general, the pain of shingles can be unbearable, and the cause might not be instantaneously obvious. However when the rashes and the blisters begin to become visible on one side of the body, it’s more easily identified as shingles.The main causal agent of shingles is the varicella-zoster virus, which is also known to cause chickenpox.
In fact a person who has had chickenpox, this virus lies inactive or in a dormant state in the nerves. It is only after several years, the virus may reactivate as shingles. Though shingles is not a life-threatening condition, it is very painful. Occasionally, the rash leads to a devastating complication called postherpetic neuralgia which is a condition that causes the skin to remain painful and sensitive to touch for even months or even years after the rash clears up (Mayo Clinic, 2007).The symptoms of shingles are sometimes varied. Often it is seen that some people have mostly itching whereas some of them feel pain from the gentlest touch or even with a breeze. In general in most of the people suffering from shingles it is a band, called a dermatome, spanning one side of the trunk around the waistline.
Besides it is often sent that any person who has had chickenpox is at risk for shingles.Researchers have found that in the original battle with the varicella-zoster virus during a chickenpox attack, some of the virus particles leave the skin blisters and move into the nervous system. Years later when the varicella-zoster virus reactivates, the virus moves back down the long nerve fibers that extend from the sensory cell bodies to the skin. Thereafter the viruses begin to multiply and the telltale rash erupts, and the person now has shingles (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2007).According to the statistics it appears that one in ten people who have had chickenpox will suffer from shingles some time in their adult life and the only reason for this is that the chicken pox virus lies inactive or dormant in the nerves along the spine for a number of years.
Once the virus becomes activated it results in shingles as the virus travels along the nervous system, causing damage (Alward, 2003). In many cases of herpes zoster infections not only result in acute pain but serious consequences, including postherpetic neuralgia and damage to ocular tissues.In general, depending on the nerves involved, shingles can affect many parts of the body. The first symptom of shingles is often extreme sensitivity or pain in a broad band on one side of the body. The people with shingles have sensation that can vary from itching, tingling, burning, constant aching, or deep, shooting, or lightning bolt pain.
In general, only after one to three days after the pain starts, a rash with raised, red bumps and blisters erupts on the skin in the same distribution as the pain. Later these blisters become filled with pus. After about 10-12 days it forms scabs. The rash disappears as the scabs fall off in the next 2-3 weeks, and scarring may result (WebMD, 2007).Antiviral drugs, such as acyclovir, valcyclovir, or famcyclovir if administered at an early detection, the severity and duration of an attack of shingles can be significantly reduced. Besides, antiviral drugs may also help ward off the painful after-effects of shingles which is also known as postherpetic neuralgia. Other treatments for postherpetic neuralgia include steroids, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and topical agents.The Food and Drug Administration in 2006 permitted a VZV vaccine (Zostavax) for use in people of the age 60 and above who have had chickenpox.
Studies have found that this vaccination of older adults reduced the expected number of later cases of shingles by half. Additionally in people who still got shingles despite immunization, the severity and complications were significantly reduced. It is important to understand that the shingles vaccine is only a precautionary therapy and is not a treatment for those who already have shingles or postherpetic neuralgia (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2007).Often it is seen that if shingles are not detected at an early stage, some doctors only treat symptoms such as pain. Pain relievers, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen or tricyclic antidepressants are examples of some pain medications that may be used, particularly in postherpetic neuralgia. In fact when people with shingles have postherpetic neuralgia the pain remains even after the rash vanishes. Doctors prescribe antiviral medications, such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir, may decrease the duration of skin rash and pain, including the pain of postherpetic neuralgia.
Sometimes, topical corticosteroids are used to decrease inflammation. Topical medications may be used to soothe the area or prevent infection (WebMD, 2007). It is important to identify the symptoms of shingles and treat it because it decreases the pain and sufferings of patients.