What are Shingles?

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Overview Of Shingles

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a viral infection that causes a painful skin rash on any part of the body. In most cases, it appears as a strip or band on one side of the face or body. The virus that causes chicken pox, varicella-zoster virus, is the same that causes shingles. The virus lies dormant in nerve roots next to the brain and spinal cord after a person has suffered from chicken pox. A weakened immune system may reactivate the virus, causing the skin infection. Pain centered on one area, headache and sensitivity to touch are symptoms of shingles. Vaccines and injections may prevent or reduce symptoms.

Symptoms of Shingles

Symptoms of shingles occur in stages and normally affect one side of the face or body. The first symptom is pain with or without rash and can occur along with tingling, numbness and burning. This pain may be mistaken for serious conditions, such as heart disease. Other symptoms include a red rash that follows the pain, itching, sensitivity to light and blisters that break up after some time. Fatigue and fever that comes along with pain may also be a signal of shingles.

Medical attention is necessary if rash extends to other parts of the body; shingles causes extreme pain; the infection causes pain or rash near the eye; an individual has a personal or family history of shingles; and if a person is at least 70 years old. Changes in vision, weakness and dizziness are other Shingles’ symptoms that require immediate medical care.

Causes of Shingles

The infection occurs when the virus that causes chicken pox, varicella-zoster virus, becomes active when diseases, old age and stress weaken the immune system. Certain medications may also reactivate the virus. The disease is usually not contagious. People who have never had chicken pox or chicken pox vaccine, however, have high chances of contracting the infection. People with shingles should avoid contact with newborns, pregnant women and people with weak immune systems.

Risk factors of Shingles

Any person can get shingles. Extended use of steroids, drugs used after organ transplanting, cancer treatments, diseases that weaken the immune system and old age may predispose a person to shingles.

Diagnosis

Physical examination may aid diagnose shingles. Antiviral medicines help rule out other causes of rash. If necessary, the doctor may perform tissue culture to determine the exact cause and best treatment for the viral infection.

Treatment, Home Remedies and Prevention of Shingles

Prescription drugs for viruses, such as famciclovir, and pain-reducing medications, including anticonvulsants, may help alleviate the infection. Applying cold compresses, taking a cool bath and engaging in stress-reducing activities may help reduce symptoms. Maintaining good skin hygiene may help as well. Vaccines for chicken pox and shingles may help prevent the problem.

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