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What are Shingles?
Shingles is painful blistering rash caused by the reawakening of the chicken pox (varicella) virus from dormancy. The medical term for shingles is herpes zoster. There is no relationship to herpes simplex other than being in the same viral family.
The varicella virus remains latent in the nerve cells after initial chicken pox infection without causing any symptoms. Years or even decades after an individual has chickenpox the virus can break out of the nerve cells travelling the path of the nerve and cause an episode of shingles in that area. How the virus remains latent and subsequently reactivates is not understood.
Who Is a Candidate for Shingles?
The earliest symptoms of shingles are fever, headache and nonspecific feelings of malaise, thus shingles may initially be misdiagnosed. The initial symptoms are followed by sensations including that of itchiness, burning pain, skin oversensitivity or tingling.
The pain from this condition may be mild or extreme in the affected areas and can be interspersed with agonizing quick stabbing pain. Often shingles in children is not associated with pain.
The goal of treatment is to limit the duration and severity of pain and shorten the duration of the episode as well as reduce complications. Speed of diagnosis is important, because antiviral medications lose their ability to shorten the outbreak when started more than 48 hours after initial outbreak.
Individuals with mild to moderate pain can be treated with over-the-counter analgesics and topical lotions containing calamine. People with severe pain may require prescription pain medication.
If you are bothered by outbreaks of shingles or just have questions you would like addressed, contact Dr. Jessica Krant for an appointment and recommendations for coping with shingles.