How To Recognise Early Signs Of Shingles?

How to recognise early signs of shingles

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a painful viral infection. The annual incidence of shingles in the UK is estimated to be between 1.85–3.9 cases per 1,000 people, but this increases with age. Recognising the early signs of shingles is crucial for timely treatment and to reduce the severity of symptoms. In this blog, we will explore the early symptoms, causes, contagiousness and treatment options for shingles.

Early Shingles Symptoms

The early symptoms of shingles can be subtle and easily mistaken for other conditions.  It’s caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox.  Here are the most common early signs:

  • Pain and Tingling: One of the first signs is localised pain, often described as burning or tingling. This pain usually appears on one side of the body, commonly on the torso, neck or face.
  • Itching: Alongside the pain, you may experience itching in the same area. This itching can precede the rash for several days.
  • Sensitivity to Touch: The affected skin may become very sensitive to touch, with even light contact causing discomfort.
  • Red Patches: Small, red patches start to appear in the painful area. These patches are the precursors to blisters.
  • Fatigue: You might feel unusually tired or fatigued, even without significant physical exertion.
  • Fever and Chills: Some people develop a mild fever and chills during the early stages.

What are the Causes of Shingles?

Shingles are caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in the nerve tissues near the spinal cord and brain. Years later, the virus may reactivate as shingles. Several factors can trigger this reactivation:

  • Weakened Immune System: Age, stress and illnesses such as HIV/AIDS or cancer can weaken the immune system, increasing the risk of shingles.
  • Age: Shingles is more common in older adults. The risk increases significantly after age 50.
  • Medical Conditions: Diseases that weaken the immune system, like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, can trigger shingles.
  • Medications: Certain drugs, particularly immunosuppressants and steroids, can increase the risk of shingles.

Can Shingles Be Found in Adults?

Shingles predominantly affects adults, particularly those over the age of 50. However, it can occur at any age if the immune system is compromised. Adults with weakened immune systems should be especially vigilant for early signs of shingles.

Is Shingles Contagious?

Shingles itself is not contagious. However, the varicella-zoster virus can spread from a person with active shingles to someone who has never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine. This person may then develop chickenpox, not shingles. The virus spreads through direct contact with the fluid from the shingles and rash blisters. Once the blisters scab over, the person is no longer contagious.

Shingles Vaccine

Vaccination is the best way to prevent shingles and its complications. The shingles vaccine can significantly reduce the risk of developing shingles. There are two vaccines available:

  • Zostavax: A live vaccine given as a single shot. It’s recommended for people over 60.
  • Shingrix: A newer, more effective vaccine given in two doses, 2 to 6 months apart. It’s recommended for people over 50 and provides stronger protection.

Besides vaccination, other steps can help reduce the risk of developing shingles:

  • Healthy Lifestyle: Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet, regular exercise and adequate sleep can strengthen the immune system.
  • Stress Management: Managing stress through relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation and deep breathing can help maintain a strong immune system.
  • Avoiding Triggers: For those with known triggers, avoiding these can help reduce the risk of shingles reactivation.

Treatment for Shingles

While keeping the affected area clean and dry, wearing loose clothing and applying cool compresses can help alleviate discomfort, early treatment can help reduce the severity and duration of shingles. Here are the common treatment options:

  • Antiviral Medications: Drugs like acyclovir, valacyclovir and famciclovir can reduce the duration of the infection and the severity of symptoms if taken within 72 hours of the rash appearing.
  • Pain Relief: Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen can help manage pain. In some cases, doctors may prescribe stronger pain medications.
  • Topical Treatments: Calamine lotion and other topical creams can soothe itching and pain.
  • Corticosteroids: In some cases, doctors may prescribe corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and pain.

Consult a Pharmacist Without Visiting a GP

Recognising the early signs of shingles can lead to timely treatment and a better outcome. If you experience pain, tingling or itching on one side of your body, along with other symptoms like fatigue and fever, consult our pharmacists promptly. Understanding the causes, symptoms and treatment options for shingles can help manage the condition effectively and prevent complications.

Skip the wait times and hassle of visiting a GP. Pharmacy To My Door offers expert consultations from the comfort of your home. Our professional pharmacists can provide advice, prescriptions and treatment plans tailored to your needs. Avail convenient, quick and reliable service at your fingertips. Contact us now for your consultation!

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