You might have heard of shingles either from your doctor or perhaps even from an ad on TV. However, many people aren’t really aware of what the condition entails or how to properly treat it.
What Is Shingles?
Shingles is an excruciating infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. This is the same virus that causes chickenpox and is often accompanied by a rash that’s localized to a particular part of your body.
This rash is highly sensitive to the touch and causes a considerable amount of tingling, itching, and burning to the affected area. It’s also often accompanied by blisters that often pop and develop a hard, crusty texture.
The condition also frequently causes many unpleasant symptoms associated with other infections such as headache, fever, and excessive tiredness.
Why Does This Infection Occur?
When someone gets chickenpox, even if the symptoms go away, the varicella-zoster virus still resides in the human body.
The virus remains in various areas, but it’s usually found around the spinal cord and the brain. It embeds itself in nerve tissue and lies dormant for many years before activating again.
It’s not known exactly why the virus re-activates, but many potential factors exacerbate the condition, most of them related to immune function.
Things such as increased age, chemotherapy, medicine for autoimmune disorders, and stress are all associated with a reduction of immune system effectiveness, which can leave the body vulnerable to attack from the varicella-zoster virus.
Virus reactivation can occur multiple times, but it’s uncommon for it to occur more than twice.
What Are Some Potential Complications of the Condition?
While the reactivation of the virus usually causes discomfort rather than serious health issues, there are some potentially harmful effects.
The condition and its associated rash most commonly affect the torso, usually on one side. Still, occasionally the virus activates in very sensitive areas, such as those near the eyes and brain. If left untreated, a rash located near the eye can potentially cause blindness, and if it affects nerve tissue near the brain, severe neurological issues can develop.
The protracted blistering of skin can lead to potential skin infections. Especially since the lower immune function is a primary factor in why the virus re-activates, this skin infection issue is much more likely to occur than in completely healthy people.
Although it doesn’t occur in everyone, it’s also possible to experience postherpetic neuralgia. This is when the rash disappears and no longer blisters, but the affected area still experiences pain for several months afterward.
Also, keep in mind that the varicella-zoster virus once again becomes infectious when it re-activates, so make sure to keep blisters away from commonly shared items such as towels to prevent the spread of the infection.
Is It Painful?
The condition is notorious for being extremely painful. It first starts by causing burning and a degree of numbness in the affected area, followed by a significant degree of sharp, shooting pain and a lot of itching.
Extreme rash tenderness can be problematic, requiring sufferers to wear loosing-fitting clothes to prevent the fabric from scraping up against the blisters.
Resting is an essential part of virus recovery, and you may need to take time off work as constantly moving around can exacerbate pain considerably.
What Are Some Treatments for the Condition?
There are several steps you can take to limit the effects of varicella-zoster and reduce rash pain.
Antiviral drugs are sometimes used to limit the scope and timeframe of the virus. These should be taken early to reduce overall discomfort and to lessen the amount of time the virus remains active.
More commonly, shingles cream will be applied to an affected area to reduce pain, itching, and burning. These creams contain ingredients that soothe much of the body’s immune response that causes extreme discomfort.
The most effective shingles creams consist of all-natural ingredients as many of the harsh chemicals found in typical soothing creams can exacerbate irritation. They are also based around activated minerals, acting as a safe, fast-acting form of pain reduction.
While pain varies from person to person, it might be necessary to take some pain medication for many people. Ideally, this would apply to over-the-counter medications, but your doctor might prescribe you something more potent like codeine in many cases.
When the varicella-zoster virus re-activates in your body, the results can be very unpleasant or even debilitating; it’s not something to be taken lightly.
If you had chickenpox when you were younger, this reactivation could be a possibility. It’s a good idea to take measures to boost your immune health and to prepare for eventual symptoms by stocking up on bandages, shingles cream, and pain medications. When you think the virus is about to become active again, don’t hesitate to go to your doctor, who can help you manage symptoms and limit the amount of time you have to be in pain.