What is it?
Shingles is a painful rash caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. The shingles rash develops into itchy blisters, usually on one side of the body, either on the face, chest, back, abdomen or pelvis. They can take several weeks to settle. Shingles can occur at any age, but it usually affects older adults. About 1 in 3 people will develop shingles at some stage during their lifetime.
What are the symptoms?
An episode of shingles typically lasts around two to four weeks. The main symptoms are pain, followed by a rash. Any part of your body can be affected, including your face and eyes, although the chest and abdomen (tummy) are the most common areas where shingles develops. ###Early symptoms In some cases, shingles may cause some early (prodromal) symptoms that develop a few days before the painful rash first appears. These early symptoms can include: * a headache * burning, tingling, numbness or itchiness of the skin in the affected area * a feeling of being generally unwell * a high temperature (fever) Not everyone will experience these prodromal symptoms. A high temperature is particularly uncommon.
Eventually, most people with shingles experience a localised “band” of pain in the affected area. The pain can be a constant, dull or burning sensation and its intensity can vary from mild to severe. You may have sharp stabbing pains from time to time, and the affected area of skin will usually be tender. Pain is less common in young healthy people and is rare in children. It usually starts a few days before the rash appears and can remain for a few days or weeks after the rash has healed.
The shingles rash usually appears on one side of your body and develops on the area of skin related to the affected nerve. Initially, the shingles rash appears as red blotches on your skin before developing into itchy blisters similar in appearance to chickenpox. New blisters may appear for up to a week, but a few days after appearing they become yellowish in colour, flatten and dry out. Scabs then form where the blisters were, which may leave some slight scarring. It usually takes two to four weeks for the rash to heal completely.
- You can’t prevent yourself from contracting shingles because shingles is not contracted from someone with shingles or chickenpox infection. You only get shingles from your own chickenpox virus.
- Local dressing with water at room temperature, for half an hour to 1 hour, at least 5-6 times every day, helps relieve the symptoms. Cool wet compresses also help to lessen the pain.
- Keep the skin clean and allow the rash to remain uncovered. Be gentle with your blisters and try not to scratch them. Make a mixture of white vinegar and tepid water. Compress the vesicles or crusts with this mixture for about 15 minutes daily till the blisters dry up to soothe the area.
- Skin becomes very dry, stretched and at times cracked, once the scabs fall off. Rubbing some coconut oil 4-5 times daily would nourish the skin and prevent dryness.
- Articles that cannot be discarded should be used only after they are washed in boiling water or disinfected by other means.
- Do not share articles used or don’t reuse contaminated articles.
- If you have shingles, you could transmit the virus, and people could develop chickenpox as a result of contact with you. Do not stay in close physical contact with others for about 7-9 days until the blisters have dried, because till then the virus is present in the blister fluid.
Things to watch out for
Shingles isn’t usually serious, but GP should be contacted as soon as possible if you recognise the symptoms. Early treatment may help reduce the severity of the symptoms and the risk of developing complications.