Shingles Explained

Shingles application of lotionThe word shingles comes from the Latin word cingulum, meaning girdle or belt.

Shingles gets its name from the rash following the path of the nerve endings, causing a band like appearance along the side of the body.

Almost one in three people will develop shingles in their lifetime. There are roughly one million cases reported in the United States annually.

Even though you may be living a healthy lifestyle, you could still be at risk.

What Is The Shingles Virus?

Varicella Zoster is the virus which causes chickenpox.

This virus never really leaves your body and can come back as shingles when you least expect it.

It usually only affects people with a weak immune system.

Because our immune systems weaken as we get older, it’s easier for the dormant virus to resurface as shingles years later.

If you’ve had chickenpox you are susceptible to the shingles rash.

It usually starts as a sort of “band” or stripe on the back and spreads to the stomach, generally beginning on one side of the body.

It can also start on the side of the face, neck, chest, hand or leg and can last for more than 30 days.

One in five people with shingles will develop long-term nerve pain.

Diagnosing

doctor for shingles

The first sign may be a tingling pain on a specific part of the body.

This pain lasts for two to three days, eventually evolving into a rash.

The red blotches which emerge develop into itchy fluid-filled blisters forming a solid red band that looks like a severe burn.

The rash may involve the face, eyes, mouth and ears in some cases.

When shingles affects the eyes it is referred to as optical shingles.

The virus invades an ophthalmic nerve causing inflamed eyes and temporary or permanent loss of vision.

The rash itself may range from mild to severe, with pain being so intense that even a passing breeze can cause discomfort.

The blisters will gradually dry up, form scabs or crusts and begin to fade in 7 – 10 days.

In some cases the pain can last for months, even years.

This is called Postherpetic Neuralgia, or PHN.

The number of cases of PHN is generally higher among older adults.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • General ill feeling
  • Nausea
  • Chills
  • Upset stomach
  • Difficulties with urination
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Swollen glands (lymph nodes)

In rare cases shingles can cause pneumonia, hearing problems, blindness, brain inflammation or even death.

What Causes It?

Young couple with shingles

Ageing 

Shingles are 10 times more likely to occur in people over the age of 60 than children under 10.

Other Diseases 

People with certain cancers, including leukemia, lymphoma and HIV / AIDS, are 25 times more likely to get shingles than the rest of the population.

Cancer Treatment

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy lower resistance to disease.

Stress & Trauma 

Psychological and emotional stress can trigger this disease.

Studies have shown that persons experiencing significant psychological stress are more prone to infection than those who are not under stress.

This is because stress weakens the immune system.

Medications

Immunosuppressive drugs used in organ transplant and prolonged steroid use, such as prednisone.

After a transplant, 25-45% of people develop this disease.

Chickenpox

Children whose mothers had chickenpox late in pregnancy or had chickenpox in infancy themselves generally run a higher risk.

While many people only get shingles once, it is possible to recur. The rash is most likely to return to a different part of your body after you have had it the first time, and generally on the other side of the body.

People at risk of getting it a second time:

  • Women
  • People over 50
  • If you have PHN
  • If you have a weak immune system

Dealing With Shingles

Dealing with shingles elderly couple

It is important to see a GP if you recognise any symptom.

Early treatment can help reduce the severity of the condition and risk of potential complications.

If you suspect you have shingles, don’t panic, there are a number of things you can do.

Even simple home remedies have been known to work wonders.

For more information on how to deal with this disease, please read Natural Remedies For Shingles.

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