Known traditionally as “snake disease”, shingles is an extremely painful and debilitating rash. About 95% of adults over the age of 50 are at risk of shingles if they had previously contracted the chickenpox virus earlier in their lives. Both chickenpox and shingles are caused by the same varicella zoster virus. According to the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in three people will develop shingles in their lifetime.

Older adults who have had chickenpox face a higher risk of getting shingles as the varicella zoster virus never leaves their body. Rather, it remains inactive for many years in the nerve roots before flaring up again as shingles.

Shingles is characterized by a red skin rash that can cause pain and burning. Shingles usually appears as a stripe of blisters on one side of the body, typically on the torso, neck, or face.

Most cases of shingles clear up within two to three weeks. The first symptoms of shingles are usually pain and burning. The pain is usually on one side of the body and occurs in small patches. A red rash typically follows. The rash characteristics include: red patches, painful, fluid-filled blisters that break easily and itching. This can be associated with fever, muscle weakness, chills and/or headache.

The treatment for shingles is aimed at diminishing the effects of the virus, as well as pain management.

Antiviral medications are used against the varicella zoster virus. These medications help shorten the course of the illness, decrease the severity of the illness, and hasten the healing of the skin lesions. They may also help prevent the potential complications sometimes encountered with shingles. Antiviral medications are most effective when started within 72 hours of the first appearance of the rash.

Pain medication can be used to help relieve the discomfort caused by the rash. Analgesics such as acetaminophen or anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen may be all that is needed. Individuals with more severe pain may require stronger pain medication. Over-the-counter antihistamine medication may help alleviate the localized itching.

Sometimes, complications occur, especially if the one affected is older or immunity is weakened. The complications involve the nerves, skin, eyes and other organs. Other rare complications include infections of the lung (pneumonia), liver (hepatitis), brain (encephalitis), spinal cord (myelitis) or the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meningitis).

In a nutshell, shingles can be controlled and complications avoided with early treatment and care. There are vaccines available for chicken pox and shingles. Feel free to dropby or contact us at AMC Medical Clinic for further advice.

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