Shingles is a painful condition that usually presents as a localized rash with blisters and burning on one side of the face or body. It commonly presents after the age of 50, although people of all ages can be affected. Shingles is caused by a re-activation of the chicken pox virus which is acquired during childhood. After recovering from chicken pox, the virus resides in the spinal cord and can become reactivated as “shingles” later in life. Risk factors for shingles include: age greater than 50 years, stress, illness and a compromised immune system. Signs and symptoms associated with shingles include:
- Pain, burning, and irritation of the skin localized to one side of the body or face
- A rash that appears shortly after the pain
- Grouped blisters or vesicles within the rash that can weep or crust
- Occasionally, people can have pain and burning without developing a rash
Shingles can be contagious and may cause chicken pox in someone who has not been vaccinated or has not had chicken pox (although most people today receive the chicken pox vaccine during childhood). It’s important to avoid direct contact with skin lesions for anyone who has not had chicken pox or has not been vaccinated. However, shingles is not contagious to someone who has already had chickenpox (or has been vaccinated) and contact does not increase the risk of developing shingles in those individuals.
Shingles is generally a self-limited condition and most patients recover within 2 to 3 weeks without any problems. Up to 15% of patients (usually after the age of 50) may develop “post-herpetic neuralgia,” which is pain and burning that can persist after improvement of the rash. Diagnosis and early treatment of shingles helps accelerate the healing process and minimizes the risk of post-herpetic neuralgia. Treatment consists of antiviral medications which help suppress the virus, and medications to help control the pain and irritation of the nerves. Early detection and treatment is critical in reducing the risk and severity of post-herpetic neuralgia. If you develop any symptoms that are consistent with shingles, it’s best to contact a dermatologist for evaluation and treatment. Our physician can help guide you in the right direction in the event of any concerns.