Shingles is an extremely painful infection of the nerves and skin that mainly affects the elderly. The shingles rash is caused by the virus that causes chickenpox. Anyone who has had this common childhood disease can experience a shingles infection. This is because varicella zoster, the chickenpox virus, continues to lie dormant in the nerve cells of the body and can be reactivated many years later to cause a shingles outbreak. That is why it is important to know how to recognize and treat shingles.
The medical term for shingles is herpes zoster or simply zoster. However, the infection is not caused by the same virus responsible for genital herpes. Instead, it is the chickenpox virus that causes shingles when reactivated.
Early Signs and Symptoms of Shingles
The first sign of shingles is itching or pain on one area of the skin. The pain is often described as deep, burning, shooting or stabbing and usually last for a few days. A rash soon develops and turns into fluid-filled blisters that eventually ooze, crust over and then heal. The blisters trace a band across the skin following the path of the affected nerve. Unlike chickenpox, the rash is confined to one side of the body. Shingles rash can appear across the chest, stomach, neck, or down one leg. The outbreak usually lasts three to four weeks.
How to Treat Shingles
Shingles can be very contagious. That’s why it is important to know how to treat shingles. The infection cannot be cured and must run its course, but antiviral medications can help reduce the duration of the outbreak as well as its severity. However, treatment must start immediately within 72 hours from start of the outbreak. Steroids can also help clear the rash in a short time.
Pain medication may also be prescribed to treat the discomfort of shingles. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen may help relieve the pain. For more severe pain, opioids and topical anesthetics such as lidocaine may be prescribed by the doctor.
It is also important to know how to treat the shingles rash. The area should be kept clean and dry. Regular baths can be taken and the blisters can be cleaned with mild soap and water. Aluminum acetate solution from a pharmacy can help dry the blisters faster.
Shingles normally heals well without complications but if a bacterial infection sets in the doctor may prescribe antibiotics. In rare cases, shingles may develop near the eyes and nose. This must be treated immediately to prevent infections of the eye. It is important to treat shingles in the face without delay to prevent possible blindness.
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