Herpes zoster shingles

Did you have chickenpox as a child? If yes, then be careful, because the virus that caused chickenpox in childhood, might be in a silent slumber inside your body, and may wake up if it gets a chance to. If the virus gets active again, it does not cause chicken pox, but a condition called shingles, where you may suffers from painful rashes. While there is no cure for shingles, the symptoms can be treated. The good news is that shingles can be prevented with a vaccine!

Shingles description

Shingles also called “herpes zoster” is a non-contagious infection caused by the reactivation of varicella zoster virus that is responsible for chickenpox in children. Anyone who had chickenpox in childhood can develop shingles as the varicella zoster virus stays dormant in the nerve cells.

In older people above the age of 50, when their immune system (body’s defense mechanism) becomes weak, varicella zoster virus reappears as shingles causing skin rash or painful blisters.

Each year about 1 million Americans get shingles disease and at least two out of 10 get in their life time.

Here are a few shingles symptoms. They are:

  • Burning sensation
  • Itching
  • Redness
  • Inflammation
  • Headache
  • Improper vision
  • Chillness
  • Tiredness
  • Fever
  • Fluid filled blisters
  • Scaly lesions
  • Painful inflammation
  • Irritation at the site of shingles

Shingles cannot be cured. However, with the help of the symptoms, Herpes zoster treatment can be provided to the person associated with shingles can be treated to decrease the severity, and period of suffering.

Your doctor may prescribe antiviral medications such as Acyclovir, famcyclovir or valacyclovir. These medications should be taken within 72 hours of having shingles.

To reduce the severity of pain and swelling, your doctor may also prescribe medications such as non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (paracetamol, ibuprofen) for mild pain, for severe pains narcotic analgesics such as oxycodone and in some cases corticosteroids (synthetic hormones – steroid medicines) such as prednisolone, hydrocortisone, methylprednisolone, cortisone or herpes vaccine may also be recommended.

To reduce itching and irritation associated with painful blisters, anti-itch lotions such as Benadryl or Caladryl may be applied.

Even when the rashes have disappeared, the pain can still persist. This condition is called postherpetic neuralgia. It is a painful complication of shingles (herpes virus) and affects the nerves and the skin.

The skin becomes more sensitive to changes in the temperature, touch, clothing or moving air. It can cause hurting pain so severe as to disturb sleep and appetite. Postherpetic pain prolongs long after the rash or blisters of the shingles have disappeared.

The pain can last for months and years and the risk is increased with people older than 60 years of age.

For some people there is no single treatment, and in some it may take a combination of medicines to reduce the associated pain.

Your doctor may prescribe patches that can be applied to the affected area such as lidocaine patches to cause numbness and relieve the pain temporarily.

Some people may need opioid pain relievers such as tramadol, oxycodone or morphine and need to be discussed with your doctor for their use, as they can be addictive.

Your doctor may also advise you to take over the counter (OTC) medicines and creams such as capsaicin cream to get pain relief.

Neurotransmitters are responsible for the perception of pain and your doctor may recommend antidepressants such as nortriptyline and amitriptyline in smaller doses to annul the effect these neurotransmitters.

The damaged nerves cause abnormal electrical excitement and to soothe these injured nerves, your doctor may prescribe anticonvulsants such as gabapentin, pregabalin and others.

Since 2006, varicella zoster vaccine is available. The vaccine can prevent occurrence of shingles in individuals above the age of 60. The vaccine can only prevent but not to be used for the treatment of shingles.

The following people should not be given the vaccine.

  • Persons who are allergic to any components of the vaccine such as gelatin or neomycin antibiotic.
  • People whose immune system is weakened by HIV/AIDS, steroids, radiation or chemotherapy, bone marrow cancer and cancers of the lymphatic system such as leukemia or lymphoma.
  • People who have Tuberculosis (infection caused by tubercle bacilli)
  • Pregnant or planning to become pregnant women

Chickenpox and shingles both are caused by the same virus. But shingles is not contagious. You cannot give shingles to others, if you have it; but others can contract chickenpox from you, if they have not been infected earlier.

Shingles can be prevented by taking proper vaccine. If you are above 60 years and have shingles, you can make shingles not to jingle by taking proper medications as recommended by your doctor.