What is Shingles?

Herpes zoster (shingles) is viral infection that causes a painful skin rash. Although shingles can occur anywhere on your body, it most often appears as a single stripe of blisters that wraps around either the left or the right side of your torso.

What Causes Shingles?

The varicella zoster virus (VZV) causes shingles; it is the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays dormant (inactive) in nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain. For reasons that are not fully known, the virus can reactivate years later, causing shingles. Shingles is not caused by the same virus that causes genital herpes, a sexually transmitted disease.

Although shingles is not a life-threating condition, shingles can be very painful. It is most common in older adults and people who have weak immune systems because of stress, injury, certain medicines, or other reasons. Most people who get shingles will get better and will not get it again. But it is possible to get shingles more than once.

You can’t catch shingles from someone else who has shingles. However, a person with shingles can pass the varicella-zoster virus to anyone who isn’t immune to chickenpox. This usually occurs through direct contact with the open sores of the shingles rash. Once infected, the person will develop chickenpox, however, not shingles.

What are the Symptoms?

Shingles symptoms happen in stages, and usually affect only a small section of one side of your body. The first symptom of shingles is usually pain (which for some can be intense). Also, you may initially have a headache or be sensitive to light. You may also feel like you have the flu but not have a fever.

The signs and symptoms may include:

  • Pain, burning, numbness or tingling
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • A red rash that begins a few days after the pain
  • Fluid-filled blisters that break open and crust over

Some people also experience:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Sensitivity to light

Contact your doctor promptly if you suspect shingles, but especially in the following situations:

The pain and rash occur near an eye. If left untreated, this infection can lead to permanent eye damage.
You’re 60 or older, because age significantly increases your risk of complications.
You or someone in your family has a weakened immune system (due to cancer, medications or chronic illness).
The rash is widespread and painful.

What are the Treatments for Shingles?

There’s no cure for shingles, but prompt treatment with prescription antiviral drugs can speed healing and reduce your risk of complications. These medications include:

Acyclovir (Zovirax)
Valacyclovir (Valtrex)

The specialists at Comprehensive Spine & Pain Physicians will perform a thorough evaluation of your shingles symptoms, and develop a treatment plan with you.