Signs & Symptoms
Shingles is described as a painful rash that occurs on one side of the body and is found in the form of a strip or band. The initial symptoms of shingles are pain, tingling, itching and a burning sensation of the skin. After a few days, a red rash forms with fluid-filled blisters that will break open then dry up and crust over. After the blisters have resolved, the severe throbbing, burning or stabbing pain can linger on for weeks or even longer. Other symptoms of shingles may include fever, chills, headache, upset stomach and tiredness.
Shingles is caused by a virus called varicella-zoster. This is the same virus that causes chicken pox. So if you have had chicken pox in the past, the virus can stay asleep in your nervous system for many years. When the virus is reactivated, it travels through your nervous system to nerve fibres in the skin causing a painful rash on the surface. Causes of this reactivation of the virus may be due to stress, age (more common in adults over 60 years old), or a weak immune system due to a medical condition or injury.
It is important to receive antiviral treatment within 72 hours after developing the rash to reduce the duration and severity of your condition. If left untreated, the virus could cause more damage and spread to your eyes leading to blindness. Antiviral drugs are prescription medications, so you have to see your doctor to have them prescribed. Calamine lotion and cool, wet compresses can be used to decrease itching and promote drying of the blisters. Anti-itch creams and skin numbing products can also help reduce itching and pain. There are oral non-prescription medications for pain relief and prescription painkillers for more severe symptoms. Topical pain relievers are also available.
If you have shingles, keep away from young children, pregnant women as well as people with weak immune systems. The fluid from the blisters contains the contagious virus that infect others through direct contact. Avoid any physical contact until your blisters have scabbed over.
Contact your doctor if:
• The rash spreads to your face, especially near the eyes;
• The pain from the rash is unbearable;
• You have a high fever or the rash is swollen and blisters are filled with yellow pus (bacterial infection);
• There is no improvement in the rash after 10 days;
• The severe pain lasts more than a month after the rash has healed.
If you or any of your family members have never had chicken pox, there is a vaccination available. There is also a vaccination available to decrease your risk of shingles if you are over 60 years old. For more information about the vaccinations, contact your doctor or pharmacist.
If you have suffered from chicken pox when you were younger, there is a risk that you may experience the symptoms of shingles. Just be aware of what symptoms to look out for so that you can take necessary steps to seek medical attention and treatment in order to decrease the progression of shingles.
The above information is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult with your doctor, pharmacist or qualified health care professional to receive proper medical treatment.
Armalyn Tesoro is a graduate of the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Science degree in Pharmacy. She is currently working as a licensed community pharmacist at Wal-Mart on Ellice and Empress.