Shingles is characterized by an itchy, painful rash that typically develops on one side of the body. It is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox. After recovering from chicken pox, the virus usually stays dormant before resurfacing many years later.
Why do you get Shingles?
Experts aren’t entirely clear on why this happens. The average age of diagnosis for shingles is 60 and over. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in three people in the U.S. will develop shingles at some point in their lives. In most cases of shingles, the rash blisters, scabs and clears up in about two to four weeks. An episode of shingles typically occurs just once. In fact, multiple episodes are quite rare.
Shingles is contagious and can be spread from person to person. This happens through contact with fluid from a rash blister. If a person who has never had chicken pox comes into contact with this fluid, they may develop chicken pox instead of shingles. Some people with shingles experience something called postherpetic neuralgia. This refers to lingering pain and skin sensitivity following a shingles outbreak. The pain can last anywhere from one month to several years. Postherpetic neuralgia is brought on by nerve damage and predominantly affects people over the age of 60. Some people describe it as a tingly feeling similar to an electric shock. This makes the person extra sensitive to touch and temperature. The condition can be severe enough to contribute to depression.
When it comes to shingles, prevention is key. The National Institutes of Health urges all people over the age of 50 to get a herpes zoster vaccine to protect against shingles. Doing so can actually reduce the risk of contracting it by roughly 50 percent.
There is no cure for Shingles. Treating post-therapeutic neuralgia often involves topical pain relievers but it depends on which stage the Shingles is in:
- Initial treatment: Antiviral medicines, over-the-counter pain medicines and topical antibiotics are recommended as initial treatment for Shingles. Doctors claim that starting the medicine immediately after spotting a Shingles rash significatnly lower the risk of having more severe problems later.
- Ongoing treatment: If the intial treatment isn't working and the pain persists after the rash has healed, the patient most likely have postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), which is the most common complication of shingles and can cause problems for years. Treatment includes: antidepressant medicines, topical anesthetics, anticonvulsant medicines and opioids.
- If condition gets worse: Shingles can in some cases continue to get worse and the pain might be more or less constant. In those cases, treatment includes rest, cool compresses, anticonvulsants, antiviral medicines, antidepressants, and opioids.