What Are The Causes And Symptoms Of Shingles?

Understanding the causes and symptoms of shingles

If you’ve ever had chickenpox, you’re at risk of developing shingles later in life. While the condition is not life-threatening for most people, it can be extremely uncomfortable and lead to serious complications in some cases. Understanding the causes and symptoms of shingles can help you spot the condition early and seek proper treatment.

Causes of Shingles

Shingles are caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. After you recover from chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in your nerve cells. In some people, the virus can reactivate years or even decades later, causing shingles.

The exact reason why the virus reactivates is not fully understood, but certain factors can increase your risk of developing shingles:

  • Age: As you grow older, your immune system weakens, making it harder to keep the virus in check. Shingles is most common in people over the age of 50, with the risk increasing as you get older.
  • Weakened immune system: Conditions that weaken the immune system, such as HIV/AIDS, cancer and certain medications (like steroids or immunosuppressants), can increase your risk of shingles.
  • Stress: Prolonged periods of stress can suppress the immune system, potentially triggering the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus.
  • Injury or illness: Physical trauma or certain medical conditions that affect the nervous system may also increase the risk of shingles.

Symptoms of Shingles

Recognising the symptoms early on is important for prompt treatment and to mitigate complications. The symptoms of shingles can range from mild to severe and they typically appear in stages. Here’s what you can expect:

Early symptoms

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Sensitivity to light
  • General feeling of being unwell

Rash and pain

A few days after the early symptoms, a rash typically appears on one side of the body or face. The rash starts as small, red bumps that quickly develop into fluid-filled blisters. The rash usually appears in a single stripe or band, following the path of the affected nerve. The rash is often accompanied by intense pain, burning, tingling or itching in the affected area.

Complications

The severity of shingles symptoms can vary from person to person and some individuals may experience milder or more severe cases. It’s important to seek medical attention if you suspect you have shingles, as early treatment can help reduce the severity of symptoms and the risk of complications.

  • Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN): This is the most common complication of shingles, characterised by persistent nerve pain that can last for months or even years after the rash has healed.
  • Eye problems: If the rash affects the eye area (known as herpes zoster ophthalmicus), it can lead to eye complications like inflammation, vision problems and even permanent vision loss.
  • Bacterial skin infections: The blisters can become infected with bacteria, leading to cellulitis or other skin infections.
  • Neurological complications: In rare cases, shingles can cause neurological problems like encephalitis (brain inflammation), facial paralysis or hearing loss.

Treatment and Vaccines for Prevention

While there is no cure for shingles, antiviral medications can help shorten the duration and severity of the illness if taken within the first 72 hours of the rash appearing. These medications include acyclovir, valacyclovir and famciclovir.

Additionally, over-the-counter pain medications, topical creams and cool compresses can provide relief from the pain and discomfort associated with shingles.

To prevent shingles or reduce the risk of complications, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the shingles vaccine (Shingrix) for adults aged 50 and older, even if they have already had shingles. The vaccine is given in two doses, separated by 2 to 6 months and can provide long-lasting protection against shingles and its complications.

If you’ve already had shingles, the vaccine can still be beneficial in reducing the risk of future occurrences, although it’s recommended to wait until the shingles rash has fully healed before getting vaccinated.

Get Expert Shingles Advice: Consult Pharmacy To My Door Today!

Shingles is a painful and often debilitating condition caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus. While anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk of developing shingles later in life, certain factors like age, weakened immune system, stress and injury can increase the risk.

Recognising the early symptoms of shingles, such as headache, fever and the characteristic rash, is important for seeking prompt medical attention and starting treatment.

Early treatment can help reduce the severity of symptoms and the risk of complications, particularly postherpetic neuralgia, which can cause long-lasting nerve pain.

For personalised advice on shingles and its management, talk to the pharmacists at Pharmacy To My Door. We offer expert guidance on treatment options, vaccines and symptom relief. Reach out to us today to get professional advice tailored to your needs and find the best solutions for your health.

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