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If you have chickenpox when you were younger, you may be at risk for developing shingles. Shingles is a reactivation of the varicella-zoster, which is also a form of herpes. Shingles is painful and does not tend to resolve without treatment. Those who are older or have a weakened immune system are at most risk for developing shingles. If you have been wondering if what you have is shingles, you might find some clues here.

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What Is Shingles?

Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same one that causes chickenpox. Only those that have had chickenpox in the past can develop shingles. In rare cases, people who of only had the chickenpox vaccine may develop it. After the chickenpox has resolved, the virus remains in the body. It lies in a dormant state in the nervous system in nerve cells located in the spine. It is not known what causes the virus to reactivate, but sometimes decades later, the virus reactivates and travels along the nerve paths to become shingles. Those with weakened immune systems are at higher risk for developing shingles.  

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Shingles vs. Herpes

Although the varicella zoster is and the herpes family, it is not the same as herpes simplex. The herpes simplex virus causes cold sores, genital herpes, and fever blisters. The rash associated with shingles is not the same and has a specific pattern. Shingles typically develops along a group of nerves in the same region.

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First Signs

The signs and symptoms of shingles can be distinguished from other rashes and skin conditions in a few different ways.  The first symptom that people usually have is a stabbing pain on one side of their body. It will appear to have no obvious cause. Next, they may develop a tingling, itching, stinging, or burning sensation in an area of their skin. In a few days, the area where the sensation occurred will develop a rash. It typically appears on the torso or face. It will look similar to the original chickenpox and consist of a fluid-filled blistered red rash.

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Other Symptoms

In addition to the red rash, the person may also experience a headache, nausea, fever, and chills, or general body aches. Shingles can have flu-like symptoms, but the most easily recognized characteristic is the appearance of the red rash. The itching that appears before the rash is usually attributed to something else or may be a mystery until the rash appears. Some people do not get significantly ill, while others do.

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Diagnosis By A Physician

A physician can most typically identify shingles by the characteristic appearance of the rash. The rash appears as little red patches that develop into blisters. They usually appear in a stripe or band along a nerve path. When shingles is first developing the pain and itching may appear to have no cause. Most people do not go to the doctor until the appearance of the rash.

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Treatment for Shingles

The most common treatment for shingles is antiviral medication and pain medication. As the rash begins to go away, the blisters will form a scab and crossed over. Eventually, this gap will fall off. It is important not to scratch the blisters because of the risk of a secondary infection. Because the source of the itching is from the nerves and not something on the top of the skin itself, pain medication is the best way to relieve it.

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Is Shingles Contagious?

Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. It is possible to pass it on to someone if they come in contact with the fluid from the blisters. Those that have already had chickenpox or have had the vaccine are not at risk. If you have shingles, it is best to remain isolated from those who are at risk. This would include younger children who have not been vaccinated against chickenpox yet, and those with a weakened immune system. It is also important to avoid someone who may be pregnant. Shingles cannot be passed on through coughing or sneezing.

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Risk Factors

The risk of developing shingles increases with age. This is thought to be associated with declines in the immune system. Others who may be at increased risk for developing shingles include those with cancer or HIV/AIDS. People on certain medications and steroids or other medication to suppress the immune system. Those that have had organ transplants, who have autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, and ulcerative colitis are at an increased risk. Emotional stress also increases the risk of shingles.

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Postherpetic Neuralgia

Most of the time shingles resolves without any major issues developing. However, some people may develop a condition called postherpetic neuralgia. This is where the nerve pain stays even though the virus is no longer active. This pain can last for months or even years. It is thought to be a result of nerve damage. This type of pain can be quite disabling and difficult to control. It most typically occurs in people over 40 years of age and the likelihood of getting it increases with age. Timely treatment of the outbreak seems to reduce the potential for developing these long-term effects.

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Possible Complications of Shingles

Although more severe complications are rare, they do occur sometimes. Other possible complications of shingles include Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, which involves paralysis of the nerves of the face. You could get a bacterial skin infection, secondary cellulitis, eye conditions and potential blindness. You could also develop encephalitis, which is an inflammation of the brain. Another risk is disseminated herpes zoster, which involves the spreading of shingles to the organs and large areas of the body Getting to your doctor early and starting treatment is the best way to avoid these complications.

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.