A painful skin rash caused by the herpes zoster virus. Shingles is an illness that causes a debilitating rash of blisters following the trail of a nerve, sometimes on the face and occasionally changing the eye, when treatment must be continuing to prevent disease.

Shingles is most common between the ages of 50 and 70. People who have reduced immunity, for example people that have AIDS or those undergoing chemotherapy, are also particularly susceptible to this disease. Individuals with AIDS are especially likely to have serious outbreaks of shingles.

The shingles rash typically happens on just one side of the body and typically affects the skin on the chest, abdomen or face. In elderly individuals, suffering may continue for months after the rash has disappeared. This drawn-out pain is called post-herpetic neuralgia.

Shingles is due to the exact same virus that causes chickenpox, which stays dormant in nerve cells. When it’s reactivated later in life, it causes shingles. The reason behind reactivation is unknown but shingles frequently appears at times of stress or ill health.

The virus is easily spread by direct contact with a blister and will cause chickenpox in someone who hasn’t already had it.

Causes of Shingles

On first contact with this virus you develop chickenpox. Afterwards the virus does not completely disappear from the body. It lives on in a dormant state within collections of nerve cells called ganglia, which are found along the spinal cord. For reasons not well understood, the virus can become active again decades later, this time causing shingles.

You cannot catch shingles from shingles – but you may catch chickenpox from shingles if you have not had it before. The virus is spread by skin-to-skin contact.

Symptoms of Shingles

Initially, you may experience tingling, itching and a sharp pain in part of your skin. After a couple of days these symptoms may develop:

  • painful rash of fluid-filled blisters
  • temperature
  • head ache and tiredness.

Within 3-4 days blisters form scabs. The scabs heal in 10 days but may leave scars. If a nerve that supplies the eye is changed, blisters may cause inflammation of the cornea. Infrequently, illness of a facial nerve causes paralysis of one side of the face.

Measures

  • Shingles can be hard to diagnose until the rash appears, and acute pain following the line of the ribs (where nerves run around the body) can be mistaken for the chest pain of angina.
  • Your physician may prescribe antiviral drugs to reduce the severity of the symptoms and the risk of post-herpetic neuralgia.
  • Immediate treatment with antiviral drugs is significant if your eyes are changed or if you’ve reduced resistance.
  • Painkillers may help alleviate distress, and carbamazepine may help alleviate the drawn-out pain of post-herpetic neuralgia.
  • Most people that develop shingles recuperate within 2-6 weeks, but up to half of individuals over the age of 50 develop post-herpetic neuralgia.

Treatment of Shingles

During the puzzling neuralgia stage the treatment is with painkillers. Once the typical rash appears, treatment is with an antiviral drug such as acyclovir or famciclovir. These reduce the severity of the illness and the chances of persistent pain afterwards. Shingles on the upper part of the face needs more specialised treatment to avoid ulceration of the eye.
Complementary Treatment

Nutritional Therapy

Supplement vitamins C, B,2 and L. Homeopathy – if you have been exposed to the shingles virus, try taking variolinum as a preventive measure. Other therapies to try: Western herbalism-acupuncture; chakra balancing; healing; hypnotherapy.

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