Shingles is a virus-born infection that affects nerves and the skin that surrounds them. The same virus that causes shingles also causes the chickenpox that so many children get. Statistics show that the average person has a one in four chance of suffering from shingles during his or her lifetime, so this makes it one of the most common minor illnesses. We looked at the 10 most common signs of shingles and more importantly how to get relief from the symptoms.
Anyone who suffers from shingles soon discovers that it can be very painful. Since everyone's pain thresholds vary, it is hard to generalize. A look at how patients describe this pain to doctors show that some feel a continual pain, while others feel as if their skin is burning, or they might say it seems like a stabbing pain. When doctors ask sufferers to rate the pain on a scale, some give it a mild rating, but others say they find it very hard to bear.
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Pain signals the onset of shingles and the appearance of a chickenpox type of rash confirms this diagnosis. The skin blisters and it starts to itch. Both the presence of these blisters and the itch may bring back memories of a childhood chickenpox infection. This blistering stage could spread over a week, but afterward, the blisters dry out and flatten into chickenpox-like marks. Finally, scabs form over these marks. When the scabs come off It is possible the skin underneath is left scarred and discolored.
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Another clear indicator of shingles comes when the rash appears only on one side of the body. In some mysterious way, the virus seems to draw its own invisible borderline going down from between the eyes to the groin. If it appears on the left side of this line, it will not cross to the right side or vice versa. It could break out on all parts of the body, but the chest and stomach are the favorite targets. Just as shingles is limited to one side of the body, it is also usually limited in duration. A shingles flare-up lasts between two to four weeks in the majority of cases.
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In addition to the distinctive pains and marks on the skin, shingles have a number of symptoms of a much less unique nature. Headaches are one of the general signs of shingles that nobody would automatically associate with this condition. After all, a stressful day at work or a change in the weather and many other physical and mental triggers set off headaches, and shingles are far from the most common of all of the possible causes.
Alongside headaches, high temperatures are another very common indicator of a health issue. Usually, whoever has a fever first tries to treat it themselves with one of the standard medicines sold at pharmacies. Only if the fever continues do they go to consult with a doctor. If they have signs of shingles on the skin and feel pain, the doctor has an easy job to make the connection. Sometimes the link between shingles and fever becomes clear only after the more obvious symptoms appear.
One of the challenges doctors encounter is when a patient comes and tells them how they generally feel "under the weather," but they cannot be any more specific. Sometimes the doctor senses that this is more an emotional problem and the patient's physical health is fine, but some kinds of illnesses also make people feel at a physical low without any one particular symptom standing out. Shingles are one of these conditions that might produce this general feeling of malaise.
The fact that someone has had shingles once does not provide any immunization against it returning. However, although some people get shingles twice, additional occurrences are very rare. Medical researchers have looked into why a person who had shingles in their younger years might suffer from it again later. Up until now, they have not reached any definite conclusions, but they strongly suspect that there is a link with a weakened immune system – it seems like this opens the way for the infection to reappear.
Some confusion surrounds the extent to which shingles might be contagious. Although some people might have this impression, doctors know that there is no way one patient can catch shingles from someone else. One aspect of this condition may make it appear to be contagious. If someone never had chickenpox in their childhood, they could catch the virus from contact with a person suffering from shingles. However, this cannot happen if they are just standing next to a shingles sufferer. To catch the virus, they need to touch an open shingles blister or a fluid that oozes out of the rash. Therefore, only close family member or health workers face any real risk.
Contrary to the popular impression, children can develop shingles, but this is not so common. Shingles is an illness that primarily affects those over the age of 50. Statistics show that females are more likely than males to get shingles. Other higher-risk groups include people with HIV and those who have recently had an organ transplant. A look at the groups most likely to get shingles reinforces the impression that the infection is most likely to strike those with weaker immune systems.
Most shingle sufferers can breathe a sigh of relief once the rash disappears, but not all of them. The part of the body where the rash appears is very painful for some time afterward in about one out of ten cases. Doctors call this postherpetic neuralgia. If someone older than eighty has shingles, they are more likely than others to also suffer from postherpetic neuralgia.
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