If you had chickenpox as a child, there is a chance you’ll develop shingles later in life. One in 3 adults will develop shingles sometime during their lifetime. With these odds, you may be wondering: what causes shingles to develop and is there anything you can do about it?
What is shingles?
Shingles, or herpes zoster, is informally known as Attack of the Chickenpox, Part 2! It is an infection caused by the same virus as the chickenpox. After chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in the body, until at some point later in life, it resurfaces as shingles.
What are the symptoms of shingles?
When somebody has shingles, the first thing they experience is pain. It can range from mild to severe, and may be sharp stabbing pain. The skin in the affected area may be tender or sensitive.
Within 1-5 days, a rash usually develops in the area. It starts as red spots that quickly turn into groups of clear, painful blisters. The blisters will evolve into open sores before they eventually scab over and heal.
The most common places shingles will appear is a band that goes around one side of the torso or the upper face. However, the rash can appear in small patches anywhere on the body.
A person with shingles may also have flu-like symptoms (fever, chills, fatigue, and headache).
Can I prevent shingles?
Unfortunately, it is unknown what exactly causes the dormant virus to reactivate and manifest into shingles.
The biggest risk factor for shingles is age. People over the age of 60 are at increased risk of developing shingles and having complications, specifically postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), resulting from it.
PHN occurs when the nerve fibers under the skin have become damaged during the shingles outbreak. PHN can last for months or years after shingles, and is characterized by intense itching and nerve pain in the areas where the shingles rash was. The pain can be excruciating — a burning, stabbing, or gnawing chronic pain.
The only preventative measure that has shown effective against shingles is vaccination. Fortunately, the newest vaccine is over 90% effective. The CDC recommends healthy adults over 50 be vaccinated against shingles, as it will also reduce the risk of complications, including PHN.
It is important to note, however, that shingles does not only affect seniors. In fact, in recent years, the average age for developing shingles has fallen. About half of all cases occur in people under the age of 60. While researchers cannot determine why, it could be that stress and decreased immune systems are contributing factors to this trend.
When should I see a doctor for shingles?
If you suspect you have shingles, you should visit your doctor immediately so that you can begin taking anti-viral medication. If your regular doctor can’t see you the same day, visit an urgent care clinic. The anti-viral medication is most effective if it is started early on, within 48-72 hours of onset. While there is no cure for shingles, the medication will reduce the length of time of the outbreak and help relieve symptoms faster.
What else can I do for shingles?
The rash from shingles can be painful and irritating. It can take 3 to 5 weeks to heal. After seeing a doctor, you can take further steps to minimize your discomfort with:
- Cool showers;
- Oatmeal baths;
- Cool, damp compresses on the skin; and
- Calamine lotion.
Get relief from shingles.
If you need to see a doctor on short notice in Hampton Roads, In and Out Express Care has four convenient locations to serve you. Stop by one of our urgent care clinics in Hampton Roads so we can help you feel better fast! When it comes to shingles, you don’t want to wait.