Health Risks: How To Recognize And Treat Shingles

Information on shingles: how to recognize, when the patient is contagious, how to treat them and what red flags to look for.

Although many people have never heard of shingles, it is an almost common rash caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. Once a person has had the chickenpox, the virus lives in the nerves forever. When the virus appears the next time, if it ever shows itself again, it's known as the shingles. Although the medical term for shingles is Herpes zoster, it is not the same virus that causes genital herpes or fever blisters.

Before a full-blown case of shingles, a person might notice that their skin is ultra-sensitive or itchy. The symptoms can last for a week and then small blisters begin to break out in different areas of the body. The blisters can be traced across a certain nerve path. For example, if a particular nerve in your body goes from behind an ear, down the neck, across the chest and stomach, then down one leg, the shingles can be traced along that same path.

The blisters have similar characteristics of the chickenpox, in that they appear, itch, pop open, scab over, then finally disappear. The process can take 3 to 4 weeks. In a rare instance, some people will have the pain and itching, but no blisters will appear, making it difficult to diagnose.



Shingles are extremely contagious. If a person hasn't had chickenpox, he will get them instead of shingles, once exposed to an infected person. To be contagious, the infected person must have at least one blister, forming or healing, on the body.

There are some anti-viral medications that can help to reduce the amount of time the shingles will be present, but it must be started within 48 hours of the outbreak. Taking an additional steroid can also help to clear the shingles in a short amount of time. Pain medication might also be prescribed to treat the discomfort. Don't just walk into the doctor's office or clinic and expose everyone there. Call your physician first, who might be able to meet you as the last patient, or can possibly call in the prescriptions.

The area attacked by the shingles should be kept covered and dry. Regular baths can be taken and the shingles can be cleaned with soap and water, but the area should be thoroughly dried afterward. An aluminum acetate from the pharmacy might help a little with drying the blisters.

Normally shingles heal well and there aren't any complications from contracting them, but occasionally a bacterial infection will set in. If the area becomes extremely red around the blister, streaks form, the spot becomes hard or especially tender, contact your doctor. Antibiotics can be prescribed to eliminate the infection. Even more rarely, a patient can develop shingles near the eyes and nose regions causing infections of the eye, even blindness, although extremely rare. Notify your doctor immediately upon spotting the shingles on the face, especially on the forehead or around the nose and cheeks.

Most people who do contract the shingles have a mild to moderate case and are back up on their feet in a little over a couple of weeks. Shingles can cause scarring, so take care not to scratch or pick at the blisters or scabs and take soothing baths to temporarily alleviate the itch.

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