Shingles, medically known as herpes zoster, is a common skin condition often found in older adults. But what is this condition, what causes it, and how can it be treated and prevented? Read on to find out more about the shingles rash.
Herpes zoster, or shingles, is actually caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. Once this virus is contracted, most often in childhood, it remains in a resting phase in the nerve cells. Later (sometimes decades later), there can be recurrent outbreaks that resemble chickenpox but are a little different in terms of symptoms.
Estimates show that about 20 percent of the population that already has this virus will experience multiple episodes of outbreaks during their lifetime. So if you had chickenpox as a child and never received a vaccine for this virus, you may be at risk of developing the shingles rash later on in adulthood.
Shingles is more often found in people with existing diseases or compromised immune systems. Because it is related to the central nervous system, episodes can be caused or exacerbated by stress. Like all forms of herpes, the shingles rash is contagious.
The most common symptoms of shingles are similar to chickenpox or herpes outbreaks, but often the shingles rash doesn’t start with blisters. Initial symptoms include tingling or burning, as well as tenderness in a specific area of the body. Eventually, these sore, uncomfortable spots develop a reddish appearance and erupt into the shingles rash, which includes painful blisters that can pop, ooze, and seep fluid. Then, the blisters dry up and crust over in the healing process.
The shingles rash tends to develop mostly on the trunk and around the buttocks, but it can be found anywhere on the body, including the face. It’s considered quite dangerous if it’s found around the eye area since the virus can cause permanent eye damage if it spreads.
The outbreaks usually last more than ten days and can linger for several weeks. For elderly and immunosuppressed populations, in particular, redness and pain can persist even after the healing phase in a condition known as post-herpetic neuralgia.
Fortunately, a shingles vaccine called Zostarax is now available. This preventative method reduces the risk of developing shingles by 50% and reduces the number and severity of shingles symptoms if the rash does occur. The shingles vaccine is important not only to protect the elderly or immunocompromised but to stop the spread of the herpes zoster virus at large. The vaccine is approved for people 50 and older.
The shingles rash can be treated with antiviral prescription drugs like acyclovir and famciclovir. Additionally, pain relievers and corticosteroids can help reduce swelling and alleviate pain.
If you’re in the greater New York City area and think you may have shingles or are interested in the shingles vaccine, contact Vanguard Dermatology today. One of our board-certified specialists can diagnose the issue and provide treatment options to help with the symptoms.